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Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Qatar camel ride sparks US debate on congressmen’s expenses


US congressmen were criticised for allegedly enjoying entertainment activities at the expense of the US government. 

Two US Democratic congressmen faced a barrage of criticism in the United States after media reports published an image showing them riding camels during a business trip to Qatar.

The two officials were pictured both shirtless and maskless during the official visit, “dedicated exclusively to enhancing the bilateral business relationship between the US and Qatar,” according to the US-Qatar Business Council.

The image first surfaced on a now-deleted account belonging to Reps. Eric Swalwell of California and Ruben Gallego of Arizona, both of whom were in the Gulf state on a fully-paid trip that cost the trade group more than $84,000, according to the Washington Examiner.

The incident raised questions on whether private groups are paying solely for travel expenses or if money is being spent on other purposes.

“It brings up the question of what are we electing these people to do?” Project on Government Oversight government-affairs manager Dylan Hedtler-Gaudette told Business Insider. 

“It is probably not in the mind of the average person who casts a ballot that their representative will spend their time in Miami or LA or New York, schmoozing with national activist and donor types,” he added. 

The visit involved a group of lawmakers, including Reps. Luis Correa, Sara Jacobs , and Lisa McClain who joined Swalwell and Gallego.

Social media users also took to Twitter to call out the congressmen for disregarding precautionary measures while “scolding people” for not following Covid rules during a “special interest trip”.

Although the House Ethics Committee approved the trip to the Gulf state, including the schedule for meetings and “personal time,” private groups are not permitted to cover the expenses of entertainment activities during such visits. 

The congressmen’s office did not immediately provide requested statements to confirm or deny whether taxpayer dollars were used for the trip, however, the US-Qatar Business Council dismissed claims of funding camel rides.

In a statement to the New York Post, a spokesperson for the Council said the trade group did not fund any camel rides, and only covered “costs directly associated with travel and the working agenda of the trip.”

“USQBC did not pay for any camel rides during the trip to Qatar. As indicated in its filings required to obtain approval from the House Committee on Ethics, USQBC only covered costs directly associated with travel and the working agenda of the trip,” the trade group said.

On 1 April, the US officials met with Qatar’s Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani in a business meeting to discuss bilateral relations between the two countries. 

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