Education Minister Jeff Lloyd needs a serious reality check.
His recent self-serving rant about why he sometimes needs his wife by his side when he undertakes official foreign travel came across as defending an entitlement.
For starters, Lloyd should never have been speaking for himself and how this new Cabinet policy impacts his household.
Nobody can argue that government needs to review spending policies from time to time, especially those like travel that are indexed to moveable targets like the cost of living.
To hear Lloyd tell it, spouses play an integral part in state business when ministers go on a roadshow.
Spouses can and do play a significant role, not just in supporting the minister, but more in helping to promote The Bahamas amongst an audience that has a significant influence on ministers from other governments.
It is imprudent that Cabinet would approve a myopic policy that sets a simple per diem regardless of where in the world a minister travels. The new amount ($250 a day) might serve the minister in Miami but would leave that minister seriously out of pocket if their overseas trip is to expensive cities like London, Paris, New York or Hong Kong.
Any tourist visiting Nassau will tell you $250 barely covers the cost of three square meals a day here.
It is precisely for this reason that ministers should not be limited to a flat per diem.
When traveling on our behalf, the minister ought to have his actual expenses reimbursed, or better still, charged to a Cabinet credit card. Ground transport should conform to local security requirements and the need for confidentiality.
Simultaneously, we must get out of the mindset that ministers should fly in coach when undertaking foreign travel.
Business class on today’s airplanes are configured as working cubicles that convert into beds and so it is not only practical, but good value for the taxpayers’ money if we get some work out of our ministers along the journey and that they arrive fresh and ready to work.
Quantifying the number of spousal trips makes it sound more like a reward than the sacrifice it can be. The fact that Lloyd’s wife traveled with him only twice over two years has no bearing.
And Lloyd has some explaining to do after he volunteered that a private foundation paid for one of his trips last year. Surely, we should ban that practice.
The only time a minister should accept free travel is when it comes courtesy of a friendly government, such as the ride given to ministers on U.S. Coast Guard helicopters after Hurricane Dorian, or when the prime minister of Canada offered a ride on Canada’s Air Force One when they were all going to a Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.
We head down a slippery quid-pro-quo slope when ministers start accepting free travel.
The conduct of modern statecraft often creates a value proposition for taxpayers when the minister has his spouse along for the battery of diplomatic assignations he is obliged to attend.
Requests for a spouse’s travel should be made on a case-by-case basis after it is clearly demonstrated to the prime minister that it is in the public interest.
There should be no fixed rule on spouse travel as Lloyd advocates. When it serves our national interest, and not only the minister’s, then we should have just two words for the spouse: bon voyage.
– The Graduate