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Foreign visits by ministers: Enough already, says PM

By A Correspondent
Last updated on: August 31, 2010 14:00 IST
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Peeved by frequent private visits abroad by Union ministers M K Alagiri and Sharad Pawar, the Prime Minister's Office has issued new dictum to union ministers to avoid frequent private visits abroad.

Union ministers and ministers of state will now require the Prime Minister's prior approval before going on official foreign tours and they will also have to keep the PMO informed about their private foreign visits.

The prime minister's approval is necessary even for a private foreign trip during a Parliament session. The PMO dictum states that no official or personal staff are allowed to accompany a minister on their private visits abroad.

Union ministers are now required to obtain the PMO's 'political clearance' as otherwise the proposal submitted to the PMO will not be processed and returned. Requests for the ministry's clearance are required to be made at least 15 days prior to the date of departure and the PMO must get the request at least five days prior to the departure date.

The PM's approval is also made mandatory for a private secretary or members of the personal staff of the ministers accompanying them on the foreign tour. The ministries are barred from using their delegated powers to allow anyone to accompany the minister, without such an approval.

These are the new exhaustive guidelines issued by the Cabinet Secretariat, detailing permissions required by the ministers and the staff accompanying them on foreign trips, and stresses that the minister and secretary should not go on foreign tour when Parliament is in session while the PM's approval will be necessary if both are going abroad at the same time even when Parliament is not in session.

The office memorandum issued on August 26 also covers chief ministers and ministers of the states, stating that the PMO should be kept informed by their foreign visits, official or private, and they will also have to obtain prior political clearance from the external
affairs ministry.

The guidelines also make it clear that the ministries should not take up directly with the foreign government or its representatives any proposal for a minister-level foreign visit, without the prior clearance of the external afairs ministry. Such visits should be undertaken only in response to formal government invitations from the country concerned.

As regards international conference abroad, the minister should attend only if it has been certified by the ministry that attendance is going to be at the level of the ministers, say the guidelines, starting that proposals in other cases will require justification to warrant their visit.

While ministers of  Cabinet rank is entitled to take his private secretaries along with him on the foreign tours, the minister of state holding independent charge can also take a private secretary along, provided he is not accompanied by a delegation of officials or he is accompanied by other ministers and not leading the delegation.

The circular also stresses that the exact date of departure and return should be indicated clearly in the note submitted to the PMO. It also reiterates circulars of the Finance Ministry and the External Affairs Ministry regarding expenditure on entertainment, contingencies, gifts, class of travel and hotel accommodation.

Where a delegation is headed by a minister, proposal for approval of the tour of the minister along with his private secretary or one person from his personal staff is required to be submitted to the Prime Minister while travel of the accompanying officers is to be sent to the Finance Ministry for concurrence of the screening committee of secretaries.

The circular also stresses that the size of a minister-led delegation may not exceed five, including personal staff, except in case of joint-working groups. If the size of the delegation exceeds five, a justification will have to be given for each additional member.
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