Right of reply – Ali Mansoor

“Ultimately, decision-making lies in the hands of the Prime Minister and his Cabinet” 

I refer to an interview of Nita Deerpalsing with heading “The Power of lobbies/money can and sometimes does overshadow and overtake the power of the people” published on page 2 of your edition of Friday 27 May 2011. 

  1. The allegations in the interview clearly demonstrate that they refer to the Financial Secretary. These allegations are unfounded, malicious, incorrect, false and are misleading readers while at the same time causing prejudice to the integrity of the Financial Secretary and his staff as well as tarnishing the reputation of the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development and the Government.  
  2. One would have expected a Parliamentarian to seek to obtain facts, figures and other information through the system of Parliamentary Questions or going straight to the Minister concerned to obtain whatever information the Parliamentarian needs. Instead, the Parliamentarian is making allegations against a public officer in Parliament and in the media, thus compelling the public officer to have recourse to the media to defend himself. 

Nita Deerpalsing stated in the interview:  

“But of course, yes we have to also face the fact that there has been under-investment in the water sector over the past years. This is what you get when highly intelligent bean counters from the World Bank are put in positions where they think they can bully their dogmatic worldview to everyone else.” 

* Most serious observers would argue that the problem dates back well before 2005 and that it is not mainly a question of investment but of management. Ms Deerpalsing is most probably referring to the period since the current Prime Minister has been in office. For the period 2006 to 2011, the Prime Minister and his two Ministers of Finance in fact requested appropriations of Rs 1.8 billion for investment in the water sector in addition to providing loans of Rs 1.2 billion.  

* These facts are inconsistent with anyone in the Ministry of Finance or Prime Minister’s Office taking a bean counting view (that in any case would be more likely from an actuary than an Economist). They do suggest, however, that the problem in the water sector is more one of poor management than of lack of funds.

* The wider issue is a systemic one which is the capacity for implementation of projects rather than funding problems. The reality is that there are bottlenecks, delays and institutional constraints that hamper on the delivery of projects and which at the same time are possible unavoidable issues during implementation. The challenge rests in minimizing them and getting projects well prepared before seeking required approvals. If the right questions are asked right at the start and answers provided, the risks downstream on implementation are substantially reduced. Only professionals do that while amateurs don’t.

* It would be useful if Ms Deerpalsing could document at least one example of either a dogmatic worldview or of a bullying incident.

“I find it extremely objectionable, annoying and deeply irritating and downright wrong that technocrats who are in complete disconnect with the realities of the ground, and who are not the least accountable to the population get to push their way on policy matters. And I can tell you that probably most Cabinet ministers will agree with me on this.” 

* As any informed person and certainly every Member of the National Assembly and commentator on public matters should know, in our Westminster style of Government, Civil Servants are never in a position to decide on policy matters. Their task is to advise on and to implement policy decisions. It is even more unacceptable for Ms Deerpalsing to repeat this nonsense given that this point has been explained to her in a mise au point published in l’Express following her earlier similar allegations. 

* The task of a Financial Secretary is to advise the Minister of Finance and Economic Development and it is up to him to decide what policy options he wishes to propose to the Prime Minister who ultimately makes decisions together with his Cabinet.

* If Ms Deerpalsing has evidence that this is not the way that the system works, she needs to provide specific instances where Civil Servants were able to impose a policy against the wishes of the Prime Minister or Minister of Finance. Otherwise we may all wish to ponder where to apply her statement “Too many politicians … are there …for their ego.”

* The facts listed above should suffice to point out the shallowness of this distortion. However, if Ms Deerpalsing can document a single case to support that her statement is not a lie, it would be her duty to report this to the relevant authorities. 

“I think it’s absolutely unacceptable that Cabinet Ministers have to practically beg technocrats from the Ministry of Finance in order to implement the good projects for the benefit of the population. Go and find out how many papers the previous Minister (Hon. Kasenally) sent to Finance for approval. All of which were rejected. Why? Because the oh-so-brilliant guy from Washington thought it was not a priority for the population. Well, I would really like the guy from Washington to walk around in my constituency and give a darn good, intelligible reasonable explanation why my constituents are living in a country which can afford 4 to 5 hours of water supply per day…” 

* Since this is a serious and gratuitous allegation, it would be useful for Ms Deerpalsing to document and provide even one example out of the supposedly many such instances.

* Once we have such an example, if it exists, we can determine why the Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister decided not to provide financing. 

* If it is true that any particular request was rejected by the Minister of Finance and Prime Minister, it will be important for the public to understand why they did so. For example, the proposals may have been badly prepared, failed to offer value for money or would not have addressed the problem at hand. For example, our development partners have pointed out that some investments in the water sector would be counterproductive until steps were taken to reduce leakage in the system. 

* An informed discussion of whether any particular rejection of a spending request by the Minister of Finance and Prime Minister was or was not appropriate must consider all the facts of the particular case.

* To all there is a process of validation that needs to be followed until recommendations are made and final approval obtained. Ultimately, decision-making lies in the hands of the Prime Minister and his Cabinet who decide on the course of action to be followed based on advice provided and on other known imperatives. It is a team work with civil servants doing their part and policy-makers theirs.  

A. Mansoor
Financial Secretary

* Published in print edition on 3 June 2011

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