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Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad and his delegation's visit to Antarctica in February this year cost RM878,054.60, revealed parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister's Department Noh Omar.

He said this in a written reply to a question from Teresa Kok (DAP-Seputeh) who asked the prime minister to state the cost incurred for the trip to Antarctica.

In reply, Nor Omar said the PM and his delegates from the government were on an official visit.

According to him, the visit was aimed at providing exposure to the country, especially in the research field.

He added that Malaysia had earlier sent a few scientists to do research work on biology and telecommunications with the help from Australia and New Zealand.

Nor Omar said the prime minister also took the opportunity to meet with Argentina President Eduardo Duharde during the trip, and both countries agreed to cooperate in research carried out in Antartica.

Abuse of public fund

Kok told malaysiakini at the Parliament lobby today that she was shocked by the amount spent on the visit.

"This is an abuse of public fund," she said.

She also questioned the location, duration and fields chosen for research.

She also expressed scepticism as the delegation mostly consisted of ministers and not researchers.

"For all I know, they went for a private visit," she added.

Last Thursday, Parliament was told that the government had spent about RM13 million from 2000 till June 13 this year for the prime minister's official and non-official visits overseas.

In 2000, the government spent RM2.5 million for the PM's 16 official and non-official visits. Last year, a total of RM1.8 million were spent for 14 visits.

For the first six months of this year, however, more than RM8.5 million had been spent on the trips.

Opposition parties also questioned the increase in spending this year, which doubled the cost of overseas trips taken over the past two years.