Cost-cutting amid pandemic: Govt reins in officials’ travel expenses
The latest decision on travel allowance has been taken as part of the implementation of a directive issued by the prime minister in the Ecnec meeting
As a cost-saving measure during the coronavirus pandemic, the government has halved the expenses of officials and employees for travelling at home and abroad.
The allocation can be spent only on urgent and essential travel, while all types of routine trips should be avoided, said a circular issued by the Ministry of Finance on Sunday.
Owing to declining revenues amid the pandemic, 50 percent of the travel expenditures has been suspended in the operating and development budgets of all government, semi-government, autonomous and other organisations in the 2020-21 fiscal year.
Earlier, the finance ministry suspended the facility of purchasing new cars for government employees till December 31.
However, the finance ministry circular said the decision to suspend 50 percent of government travel allocation would remain in effect until a re-order is issued, and added that the decision would take effect immediately.
A finance ministry official told The Business Standard that, at a meeting of the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council on Tuesday, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina directed them to reduce expenses on travel, fuel and hospitality and honorariums for officials.
The latest decision on travel allowance has been taken as part of the implementation of that directive, he said, adding that instructions will also be issued to reduce expenditures in other sectors in phases.
Government officials receive cash honorariums as per their pay scale when they attend various meetings, including inter-ministerial meetings. Even trainers and trainees also get honorariums for participating in internal workshops. They also get entertainment expenses during the meetings.
As direct meetings and workshops have been reduced due to the coronavirus, the allocation will be cut in these areas as well, said the finance ministry officials.
For the 2020-21 fiscal year, nearly Tk2,245 crore has been allocated to the travels and transfers sector. Of the amount, more than Tk2,111 crore has been allocated to the operating sector and over Tk133 crore to the development sector.
The last fiscal year (2019-20) allocated over Tk2,217 crore to this sector. Although travel by government officials and employees have been stopped due to coronavirus since March, the revised budget for the last financial year increased the allocation for travel and transfers to nearly Tk2,252 crore.
Finance ministry officials said the bulk of the travel allocation is spent on foreign tours. Government officials are eager to go abroad to take part in various trainings, meetings and seminars. Although a large portion of travel expenses goes wasted, the government was not strict on it, considering it "a kind of incentive" for officials. Instead, the finance department increased the allowance for officials' foreign travels in July last year.
However, the global pandemic situation has reduced the chances of foreign travel. From March 1 to 15, 18 officials under the Financial Institutions Department went on foreign tours but no one travelled abroad after that.
Last February, 13 finance department officials went abroad. An official went on a foreign tour before the coronavirus outbreak began in March in Bangladesh. Only Finance Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal travelled abroad for treatment after the coronavirus outbreak.
Because of Covid-19, the ministries have been discouraging officials and employees to travel to foreign countries without urgent need. Recently, an official of the Department of Social Services sought permission to visit India but the Ministry of Social Welfare refused it.
Travel allowance for different dignitaries
The speaker of parliament and the chief justice, while travelling abroad for state work, every day get hotel rent of $393-560 and cash allowance of $101-127, depending on countries and regions.
The daily hotel rent for ministers, deputy speakers and dignitaries of equal rank is $295-420 and cash allowance $101-127.
State ministers, supreme court justices, chief election commissioners, election commissioners, deputy chairman of the planning commission, deputy ministers and other people of the same rank get $230-312 daily for hotel rent and $87-101 in cash.
All other government officials and employees, depending on salary grades and countries and regions, get daily hotel rent of $116-280 and daily cash allowance of $64-101.
If government employees travel within the country, they get Tk300-1,400 in daily allowance, depending on pay scale.
However, if they travel to different divisional cities, including Dhaka and Savar municipal area, they get additional 30 percent allowance.
As per the latest pay scale, an allowance of Tk1.50-3.75 per km is given in travel fare to the government employees who also get a transfer allowance.