In these days of economic crises, it is imperative that all institutions reduce expenses while maintaining their efficiency and output. This is an unavoidable exercise which individuals, private enterprises, and governments have to do.
This imperative also applies to regional institutions, such as the Caricom Secretariat, which must economise. With few exceptions, regional institutions, including vital ones such as the University of the West Indies (UWI), are experiencing financial difficulties. Regrettably, old spending habits persist.
The Caricom Secretariat is an example where there is perpetual and unnecessary travel. There are too many trips, including extra-regional ones, with oversized delegations. In this age of computers, e-mail and cellular phones there needs to be more use of teleconferencing and the number of meetings needs to be drastically reduced.
Staff in regional institutions travel with impunity, when the ministers and officials from member states have to get Cabinet approval to travel.
The problem arises from the state of mind of staff who believe that travel is an entitlement of any modern technocrat. It is made attractive by earning extra in the form of a per diem, and international travel is seemingly a symbol of success. Foreign travel is an addiction of officials from small countries like those in the Caribbean. The mindset is one of trying to visit as many countries as possible, and to recall these publicly as a credential of self-importance.
The insatiable appetite for travel also afflicts those who are appointed to represent the Caribbean at international organisations.
The wanton abuse of foreign travel by persons in regional institutions or those representing Caricom in overseas institutions is a form of corruption, because it is costly to the region both financially and in lost working time. Just as bad, the excessive non-essential travel has become a cause for disparaging comments by officials from developed countries whose money, in many instances, pays for this self-indulgent travel.
Developed country governments wonder at the business class travel when their ministers are forced to travel economy and when the Caricom representatives are arriving to solicit aid and grants justifying this on their impecunious state.
Representing Caricom is not an opportunity to see the world, it is an opportunity for service to the poor people of the Caribbean. Unnecessary travel is a reprehensible dereliction of duty. We urge those guilty of this excess to think on this as they jet off to relax in comfortable hotel rooms deluding themselves and the governments whose work that they are neglecting.
Ministers of finance of Caricom countries must look into this abuse and take corrective action.