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A study of ‘study tours’ - EDITORIAL

5 January 2016 06:30 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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The JanathaVimukthi Peramuna (JVP) members of the Uva Provincial Council have refused to join a group of members of their council, who were to undertake a foreign “study tour” claiming that it would be an utter waste of public funds. 

JVP Provincial Councillor Samantha Vidyarathna had stated in a newspaper interview that the funds allocated for the proposed “study tour” was more than the amount the Council had allocated for many important projects in the Province.

Vidyarathna had been quoted as saying that the Council had allocated Rs. 1 million for youth affairs, Rs. 15 million for sports, Rs. 5 million for housing, Rs. 5 million for water supply and Rs. 9.7 million for estate infrastructure to be spent during the year 2016, whereas the amount allocated for foreign tours alone had been Rs. 30 million. He had also alleged that the purpose of the visit by the members to Thailand and Indonesia was not clear.

“Study tours” are not new to Provincial Councils and not limited to the Uva Provincial Council.  We have heard of Provincial Councillors sometimes accusing the Council authorities of not including them in tours or sometimes praising the latter for accompanying them. They seem to think that these tours were a right of all members of the Council irrespective of the nature of the tours.

Groups of members of various Provincial Councils have so far undertaken dozens of “study tours” during the past 27 years since the inception of the Provincial Council system in 1988.

However, there is no evidence to prove that any Provincial Council member had gained any particular knowledge or experience through these tours or any of the Councils had utilised such knowledge or that experience.  Hence, Vidyarathna’s argument that these tours were an ‘utter waste’ of public funds seems to be valid.

We have never heard about any report prepared by any group of the Provincial Council members, who had gone on so-called study tours having presented in the Provincial Councils or to the Governors concerned, explaining the nature of the knowledge they had gained and how they would be going to utilise it locally. 

Nor have we heard of any Provincial Council or any Provincial Governor having requested the members, who had visited any foreign country to present such a report or utilised the knowledge, if any gained by the Councillors in any of their development projects.  What really seems to happen is that they just visit a foreign country, using public funds, and spend a nice time there and then forget about it after returning home.

Knowledgeable members, no doubt are an asset to any Provincial Council or local government body or for that matter to the Parliament since they are the policy makers and have an overseeing role over the functions of officials and projects implemented by their respective councils. Minister Champika Ranawaka had pointed out before the last general elections how large scale bureaucratic malpractices were taking place under the very noses of the Ministers, since the latter were ignorant of technicalities. 

If people’s representatives are not knowledgeable enough, when they were elected one cannot find fault with them for attempting to gain necessary knowledge after their election even using public funds.  But the so called study tours that have nothing to do with any of the projects launched under the purview of these bodies and the haphazard manner in which they were organised point to the real purpose of those tours.

If these tours are to be fruitful, first of all the authorities of these councils must look for particular knowledge that is necessary for a particular project in their area but cannot be found locally. 

Then the authorities must select the particular project or projects abroad studying of which would help the local project. And the members to be sent to study those projects should be selected on the basis of their merit and in a manner that they could be involved in the local project irrespective of whether they are from the ruling party or from the Opposition. This is not the procedure followed now. Unfortunately even under the yahapalanaya the current practice is not considered as waste and fraud. 
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