When politicians go to foreign lands, who pays?The prime minister is currently in Singapore with a seven-member team. While the government says he is paying his own way, many are sceptical.
Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli is currently undergoing a medical check-up at the National University Hospital in Singapore on the advice of his doctors. A single-bed general ward A1 room at the hospital costs 535 Singapore dollars, roughly equivalent to Rs44,000, a night, while a deluxe room costs 802 Singapore dollars (Rs66,000) a night.
Oli will be in Singapore for a week and even if he spends all his time at the hospital, he is looking at a sizeable bill. But Oli is not alone. He is in Singapore, the most expensive city in the world according to some measures, with his wife Radhika Shakya; his personal doctor, Dr Dibya Singh; Chief Advisor Bishnu Rimal; Personal Secretary Rajesh Bajracharya; two security personnel; and a protocol officer from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. If the expenses for his entire entourage are taken into account, it appears that Oli’s Singapore trip will cost at least a few million rupees.
But if the government is not footing the bill, who is?
“The government will only pay airfare for the prime minister, his spouse and his team,” said Communication Minister Gokul Prasad Baskota. Oli himself will bear all expenses for his treatment in Singapore, said Baskota, and, it is assumed, his team’s room and board expenses.
But Oli’s personal finances are not in great shape and there are doubts whether he can afford such a large expense, said advocate Swagat Nepal, who is also an anti-corruption activist.
“Personally, Oli is not a rich man. He has also undergone several such medical trips abroad since the transplants of both his kidneys 12 years ago and has already spent millions of rupees. What was the source of those funds?” said Nepal.
Regardless of whoever is paying, public position holders should maintain transparency by publicly stating the source of all sponsored visits, especially if they are not state-sponsored, say anti-corruption activists.
“The government has said that it will bear just the airfare. We do not know what financial arrangements have been made for the rest of his team members,” said Khem Raj Regmi, president of Transparency International’s Nepal chapter. “We need to know who is paying for these visits and whether they have clean financial records.”
It is a common practice for political leaders to go off on foreign junkets, but rarely are they ever questioned over who is paying for their trips, if not the government and if not themselves.
Recently, Nepal Communist Party Co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal and his family returned from a five-day stay at the luxury Atlantis in Dubai, where even basic rooms go for above Rs50,000 a night. A close associate of Dahal confirmed to the Post that the trip had been sponsored, stopping short of naming the person behind the trip.
Dahal’s visit to the United States in March was also controversial with questions raised about who had paid for the trip, and his wife’s treatment, there.
“We need to know the income source of the third party who paid for Dahal’s visit,” said Regmi. “There could be issues of money laundering.”
Keen Oli watchers have noticed that appearance of Basruddin Ansari, a controversial figure, in Singapore just two days after Oli’s arrival. On Tuesday morning, photos of Achyut Mainali, Oli’s public relations advisor, with Ansari emerged on social media. Ansari, managing director of the Birgunj-based National Medical College, had contested in the Birgunj mayoral race from the Communist Party in 2017. National Medical College has repeatedly landed in controversy in the past and Ansari himself has been accused of evading over Rs 90 million in taxes.
“If such visits are being sponsored by someone who is accused of evading taxes or is involved in money laundering, it is a financial crime and a crime against the country,” said Regmi.
Such trips are often occasions for businesspersons and interest groups to exercise influence on political figures, said advocate Nepal.
“We’ve found that international groups that have various kinds of interest in Nepal and some Nepali businessmen have been sponsoring the visits of top leaders abroad, whether for medical or recreational reasons,” said Nepal, whose team has been conducting a survey of such foreign trips and their sources.
Nepali leaders often visit Singapore, Thailand and New Delhi for medical treatment. While many receive funds from state coffers, others are believed to be sponsored.
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