Official trip with 'relatives'

State minister for labour and employment Begum Monnujan SufianFile photo

A 43-member delegation from Bangladesh is going to Geneva of Switzerland on a 16-day tour to take part in the international labour conference.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) is organising the conference, which will start on 27 May and continue till 13 June.

The Bangladesh delegation will be led by state minister of labour and employment, Monnujan Sufian at the conference. She will be accompanied by her daughter, son-in-law and one of her cousins on the tour.

Three labour and employment ministry officials along with their family members are also going to Geneva. The delegation also includes two members of parliament (MP), Awami League leaders and workers’ leaders and officials from different government agencies.

According to the labour and employment ministry, of the 43 delegates, the government will bear the expenses of 25. The remaining will travel on their own expense. The relatives of the state minister and the government officials will bear their own expense.

The labour ministry will spend Tk 15 million for 11 of the delegates. The government will have to bear an expense of Tk 1.36 million per head on an average. The expenditure for the officials from other departments will be collected from respective ministries and divisions. However, the total expenditure from the government exchequer in this tour could not be known.

Two questions have surfaced over this tour. First, whether such a big delegation is necessary for taking part in the labour conference or not. Second, what is the rationale behind taking the family members on an official tour despite the fact that they will bear their own expenses? People concerned say that taking wives and children on official visits hamper governmental work.

Mohammad Hatem, vice-president of BKMEA, an association of export-oriented garment factory owners, twice attended international labour conferences before the outbreak of the pandemic.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, he said about five to 10 delegates from other countries usually take part in such conferences. It is not necessary to take a large number of people there.

However, such incident is not uncommon. Even before this, large delegations from Bangladesh had taken part in the international labour conference on several occasions. In 2019, some 49 people went to Geneva to attend the same conference.

People who are going

According to the labour ministry, there will be discussions on the challenges of the fourth industrial revolution and work environment as well as a guide-book will be developed regarding the recruitment of apprentice workers.

The 43-member delegation includes five from the labour and employment ministry, four each from the department of cabour and the department of inspection for factories and establishments, one each from the shipping ministry and the bureau of manpower employment and training, four from the employers federation, three members of Bangladesh Jatiya Sramik League and two members of Bangladesh Jatiya Mahila Sramik League.

The remaining are two MPs, relatives of the state minister and government officials, business representatives, CBA leaders and others.

According to the government order issued in this regard, the state minister for labour and employment will be accompanied by her daughter Sufiya Sultana Parvin, son-in-law Gazi Monibur Rahman and cousin Kazi Bappy.

State minister’s brother Shahubuddin Ahmed is working as her assistant personal secretary (APS). He too will accompany the state minister on the tour. However, the relatives of the state minister will bear their own expenses.

Earlier, during the ILO conference in 2019, the state minister took her son-in-law Gazi Monibur Rahman to Geneva. On that occasion, the state minister also took her granddaughter Maria Rahman and relative Md Sazzadur Rahman with her.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, Monnujan Sufian said, “I am old now. Therefore, I am taking my daughter to help me.”

When asked about taking her son-in-law and cousin, she said, “They are going for a visit. Getting a visa is a tough task. They will not stay there. They will return.”

The people concerned say such a statement from the state minister makes it clear that her relatives are using this official tour as an easy way to get the visa.

Apart from the state minister, three government officials along with their family members are supposed to visit Switzerland. One of those three is Khaled Mamun Chowdhury (additional secretary), director general of the department of labour, is going with his wife Nighat Sultana. Humayun Kabir, joint secretary of the labour and employment ministry is supposed to be accompanied by his wife Rubina Khan and daughter Tanisha Kabir on the tour. Nazmul Huda, senior assistant secretary of the same ministry is going along with his wife Tahmina Haque and son Tahmid Shamim.

When asked, labour ministry’s joint secretary Humayun Kabir told Prothom Alo, “My family members would bear their own cost. Therefore, there is no problem in taking them with me.”

However, a state minister of the government thinks taking family members on an official tour creates several problems. On condition of anonymity, the state minister shared some incidents from his own experiences with Prothom Alo.

He said, “Taking relatives on official tours abroad hampers the meetings and seminars the government officials are supposed to take part in. Apart from that, there are several programmes abroad under the arrangement of the government. Many of the government officials go there with their family members, which create an embarrassing situation there.”

MP from the Naogaon-6 constituency, Anowar Hossain, also a member of the parliamentary standing committee on the labour and employment ministry and Shamsun Nahar, MP from the reserved women’s seat, labour secretary Ehchhane Elahi, Khulna city Awami League’s joint general secretary Ashraful Islam and Nazrul Islam, CBA president of Agrani Bank Limited and many others are also going to Geneva.

Notably, Khulna city Awami League’s joint general secretary is known to be very close to the state minister. The state minister is also the MP of Khulna-3 constituency.

‘Waste of state properties’

The finance ministry issued a circular to curb the government officials’ visit abroad last year, which is still in effect. It said the government officials cannot go abroad without any emergency. However, in reality it is seen that with improvement in the pandemic situation the government officials’ tendency to visit abroad has increased.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, Iftekharuzzaman, executive director of Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB), said, “The government officials’ visits abroad have been established in the administrative culture of the country. Going abroad means benefitting the government officials now. It is simply a waste of state properties. Such a culture has developed as there is no accountability.”

*This report appeared on the print and online versions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ashish Basu