From teachers to officials of different government agencies, 1,710 people have queued up to go on a foreign trip to gather knowledge on technical education at a time when there is a need for cutting down on spending to ease growing pressure on forex reserves.
They want to visit India, Thailand, China, the Philippines and a few other countries for training on technical education and recreation purposes at a cost of around Tk94 crore under a project for enhancing skills of teachers in 64 technical schools in Bangladesh, according to sources at the Planning Commission.
What is more, the Technical and Madrasah Education Division ignored the project steering committee's decision to reduce the number of tour-goers from the original proposal and has applied to the Planning Commission for adding 86 more people to the list with a Tk26.41 crore hike in the cost.
In the original project, 1,624 teachers of technical schools and officials from the Planning Commission, the Implementation Monitoring and Evaluation Division, the Project Implementation Unit, and the Bangladesh Technical Education Board were named for foreign trips in different batches. The allocation for it amounted to a little more than Tk67 crore.
The project steering committee in a meeting early this year decided to reduce the number of tour-goers, but the revised proposal has paid no heed to it, the Planning Commission sources said.
In the revised proposal, the number of teachers has been reduced by 60 while 10 high officials and 40 managerial officers have been added in the list.
On 11 May, Finance Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal announced the belt-tightening plan, which includes shelving low-priority development projects and suspending foreign tours for public officials to save foreign currency in an unusual situation triggered by the Russia-Ukraine war. "There will not be any approval for official tours to foreign countries except the urgent ones. No more foreign tours for now," he was quoted as saying amid a dollar rate volatility.
In a Project Evaluation Committee (PEC) meeting, Mosammat Nasima Begum, member (secretary) at the education wing of Socio-Economic Infrastructure Division, objected to sending such a large number of people to the foreign tour, according to the sources in the know about the development.
When contacted, Mosammat Nasima Begum declined to make any comments on the rationale of sending such a large number of people on a trip and referred the matter to Nurmahal Ashrafi, deputy chief at the education wing.
Nurmahal told The Business Standard that the government has imposed restrictions on foreign tours of its officials. So nothing can be done without the consent of the government.
Project Director Subrata Paul told TBS that they have logically finalised the number of people for the foreign trip as per necessity.
"But the Planning Commission will have a final call. We have just sent our proposal that does not guarantee the tour for all of them. There is still a need for securing approval from Ecnec and other relevant offices," he said.
Iftekharuzzaman, executive director at Transparency International Bangladesh, told TBS that if those who have been selected for the foreign tour are all teachers, it is morally right, but sending any government officials to the tour will be illogical and a waste of public money.
He, however, noted that the government could send a few teachers abroad for training on technical education and they could train others later.
Dr M Masrur Reaz, chairman of Policy Exchange of Bangladesh, told TBS that sending so many people abroad for training can in no way be logical both from economic and policy perspectives.
There is no denying the need to enhance the skills of technical teachers, but without sending so many teachers abroad, training of all can be arranged by bringing in trainers from abroad, which will save a huge amount of foreign currency, he said.
According to sources, four batches of high government officials, five in each batch, are to go on the tour for seven days according to the original project, but the number of batches has been raised to six in the revised proposal.
The batches of managerial-level officials, 10 in each batch, from the government offices have also increased to eight from four. They will go on the trip for 10 days.
But the number of batches for teachers have been cut to 72 from 75 in the revised proposal. Each batch having 20 teachers will stay abroad for 15 days for technical training
In 2019, the government took up the project involving Tk1,494 crore to bring around 7,000 students under technical education each year by boosting the standards in the country's 64 technical schools by 2021.
But with only 30% progress in the stipulated time, the Technical and Madrasah Education Division has demanded extending the project deadline to 2025.
In the current fiscal year's annual development programme, Tk250 crore was earmarked for the project, but the allocation was trimmed a little to Tk249.78 crore. The Tk250 crore in allocation has again been sought for it, but the fund cannot be released if the project time does not extend.