CIDA staff’s airfare to aid conference in Ghana causes uproar in Canada

cidaCanadians are displeased by news of a Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) staff’s cost of travelling to attend aid conference in Ghana.

The official led a delegation to the Accra High Level Conference on Aid Effectiveness which took place at the Accra International Conference Centre from September 2-4, 2008.

According to a report by the Canadian Press, the head of Canada’s aid agency and two senior staff spent almost $40,000 on first-class airfare alone to attend the conference on aid effectiveness.

The reaction of Canadian taxpayers is informed by the fact that the conference in Accra discussed “how to get maximum results from aid to developing countries.”

According to the report a review of travel and hospitality records filed by the Canadian International Development Agency shows staff routinely pay many times the cost of flying economy in favour of business class.

The report noted that first-class flights are the accepted norm under Treasury Board guidelines for trips lasting nine hours or more.

The report stated that Federal spending has come under intense scrutiny as Canada’s new government is set to announce a big-spending budget Tuesday, January 27, 2009. Canadians fear the budget of the new government would run the country’s economy into the red.

Canadians are also worried about the slumping economy following the global financial crunch which is throwing a lot of people out of work.

The report quoted Government expense reports which say Margaret Biggs, president of CIDA, paid $13,856.46 just for airfare to the conference. Accommodation cost $1,750.92.

The records, also indicate that Biggs was in Ghana from Aug. 28 to Sept. 5 for a meeting scheduled for Sept. 2-4. She also visited field projects, says an emailed response from agency spokeswoman Jo-Ann Purcell.

Another $805.44 was claimed for expenses described only as “other.” Purcell clarified that $475 of that total was for medical shots, while another $330.44 was for “incidentals.”

According to the report, no further explanation was offered.

“All travel by CIDA employees is as per Treasury Board guidelines for long haul flights,” Purcell said. “The president’s trip was 21 hours one-way.”

Referring to an Internet search, the report said it indicates that the same trip in economy class costs about $1,400 return including taxes and fees – even if it’s booked within a week of departure.

A ticket for Stephen Wallace, vice-president of the Afghanistan Task Force, cost $10,496.26 for his trip to the conference where he acted as chairman. A ticket for Christine Hogan, vice-president of the agency’s strategic policy and performance branch, cost $15,117.69.

Purcell said the tickets were purchased through the Government Travel Service at the best rates possible at the time of booking.

Five more junior CIDA staff also attended the forum but their expenses aren’t automatically disclosed under Treasury Board rules. A working lunch for 19 government staff to discuss lessons learned – also billed to taxpayers – was catered Sept. 19 by a pizzeria in Gatineau, Que. for $143.83.

He report quoted Kevin Gaudet of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation calling business-class flights a “ridiculous expense.”

“You shake your head and you go: ‘Is there no way this could have been done cheaper?’

“Look, when an official goes and works for the government, they’re not working for the private sector. And they shouldn’t expect to be able to enjoy all of the benefits that some private-sector executives experience.

“Might that suck? Maybe. But it’s not their money. It’s our money.”

Calling on the Canadian government to follow the example of private companies, he said travel, entertainment, hospitality and consultation fees are the first things private-sector companies cut when times get tight, and government must do the same.

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

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