The elected representatives of Goa who were planning a junket to the FIFA World Cup 2014 using 8.9 million rupees ($148,000) of public funds have been forced to spend their own money on their 10-day trip to Brazil following public criticism.
The state administration had earlier claimed it was footing the bill for six members of the Goa legislative assembly (MLAs) to attend the sporting event as “an investment” to study “traffic management”.
“Goa has declared football as a state sport. The delegation, which has been approved by the state government, has MLAs who are actually footballers. The government considers this to be an investment,” Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar told reporters on Thursday.
According to The Indian Express, the group heading to Brazil included three ministers from the BJP administration: Sports Minister Ramesh Tawadkar, Fisheries Minister Avertano Furtado and Power Minister Milind Naik.
Furtado is a former goalkeeper of Salgaocar Football Club, but no sports officials were included in the delegation.
Former Indian football captain Bruno Coutinho, now Joint Director (Training) in the Sports Authority of Goa (SAG), embarrassed the administration when he revealed that he was left out of the delegation, despite being included in the first list, after the list was subsequently vetted by Tawadkar and the chief minister's office.
The controversy has sparked outrage among Indians fed up with corruption scandals and government profligacy. Congress, the opposition party in Goa, was quick to term the delegation’s visit to Brazil as “wasteful expenditure” and called for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s intervention to “stop the junket”.
Under pressure, the state administration was forced to backtrack and Furtado announced later on Friday that he and his fellow ministers would pay for their visit.
“It was a big hype created that we are going at the cost of the state exchequer. All six of us decided that we will pay from our own pockets and visit Brazil,” he declared.
It turns out that the Goa administration has a history of using taxpayers’ money to fund foreign trips. According to Mayabhushan Nagvenkar of Scroll.in, 20 people went to Italy, Germany and Austria in November 2013 to observe garbage management. Led by Deputy Chief Minister Francisco D’Souza, the delegation included MLAs, panchayat members, members of municipal councils and two journalists. This visit cost Goa 10 million rupees ($167,000).
The previous Congress administration had also sent a delegation in February 2011 to Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Francisco to promote Goa’s casinos and to arrange tie-ups with entertainment promoters in the USA.
These junkets may now become a thing of the past with Prime Minister Narendra Modi tightening the norms on Friday for ministers and senior bureaucrats wishing to travel overseas on official visits.
According to Rediff.com, the Cabinet secretariat has asked them to provide notice at least 10 days in advance with details of the "tasks to be accomplished during the visit". The ministers and bureaucrats would also have to submit a detailed report on the outcome of the visit on their return.