Does an official overseas trip by a minister, especially in times of austerity, really need an entourage of 17 people?
More so if the trip involves lots of golf sessions and private dinners, and not much work itself?
These are the questions raised by DAP MPs Zairil Khir Johari and Steven Sim, from a leaked document showing Education Minister Muhyiddin Yassin is now in Dubai with 16 officers, most of whom are political appointees.
The document, posted on the blog peniupwisel2020.blogspot.com, shows that most of the 16 are special officers and bodyguards. Not one is an Education Ministry officer.
Zairil said that this raises doubts over the claim that Muhyiddin is on a working trip.
Besides his wife, Muhyiddin took with him a senior private secretary, two political secretaries, a press secretary, four special officers and seven security personnel.
The document appeared to have been endorsed by Muhyiddin, who is also deputy prime minister, last month.
“The government must immediately clarify how much the entire trip, including the use of special aircraft, hotel stays and all other incidental expenses, has cost the taxpayers.
“At the same time, the public must be told how such a programme will bring benefit to Malaysians, especially in terms of education or commerce,” Zairil (right) and Sim said in a statement.
They also asked if bringing along a wife and 15 personal aides and staff on a “golf holiday with some work squeezed in” was in line with the cost-cutting measures of the civil service.
'Treasury circular limits travel'
According to a Treasury circular, civil servants must only go on international trips for conferences or inter-governmental meetings.
“Officers who attend must have assigned tasks directly involved (with the event) and there should not be more than three officers from each ministry or department.
“Ministers can only bring three minstry officers on international assignments while deputy ministers can only bring two officers.
“The chief secretary is not allowed to join a ministerial trip, except for scheduled meetings,” the 2008 circular accessible via the Treasury website reads.
Azmin Ali (left), who acted as Anwar Ibrahim's private secretary when he was deputy prime minister from 1993 to 1998, said the deputy prime minister’s delegation then only consisted of five - the private secretary, press secretary, two security personnel and the DPM himself.
“There was a tradition of bringing the whole office along but then it was stopped as embassies have the staff to assist visitors from Kuala Lumpur. They even have security personnel,” Azmin, who is now PKR deputy president said.
He added that all trips then had to be approved by the cabinet and a strict guideline adhered to, but he is not certain if the same guideline is still in use.
Muhyiddin's office has not responded to requests for a response.