Too many cooks spoil the broth: Too many experts… 

By TP Saran

Too many cooks spoil the broth, says a well-known proverb. And too many experts and advisers? They produce voluminous reports many of which do not take account of local realities, especially covert ones, and eventually gather dust since they cannot be implemented.

Others waste away precious taxpayers’ money because they are political appointees who have no special competencies; they just mark time, collect their paychecks at the end of the month and have no accountability – and no shame — whatsoever. Not to mention that they enjoy duty-free cars and other perks.

We have suggested in the past that an audit must be made of the contributions of advisers across all ministries, and of course no government is prepared to have such an exercise carried out, for fear of exposing their machinations.

Many of the luminaries end up giving conflicting advice if only because they are not made aware of what has happened before, and think they are reinventing the wheel whereas had they been given the proper information — or sought it out — they might perhaps have come up with some appropriate proposals. A few genuinely sweat it out, but since they simply transpose models from elsewhere to the local context, their ideas end up being impractical and result in inconsistent outputs when applied – again, more wasted opportunities!

There is yet another category made up of birds of passage who somehow have access to the media and give their unsolicited views on any number of matters, especially health and environment. These views are given wide coverage as if they represent the gospel truth, and then pressure is brought to bear on the respective sectors to translate them into practice.

Worse still, high officers are forced to receive these visitors and listen to their exalted views. Again, if a survey were to be carried out of how many such intrusions into different areas of government’s activities take place, one would be amazed at the amount of wasted time and energy that is imposed on officers who certainly have better things to do than to listen to the ramblings of such creatures from outer space.

The icing on the cake surely are some who have found Mauritian officialdom very accommodating to them, covering airline tickets – business class at the minimum – for themselves, their spouses in a number of cases, and sometimes even children, local per diem or generous monthly allowances, free transport and 24-hour driver availability, mobile phone and other communications facilities, and a bevy of juniors and not-so-juniors forced to genuflect to their wishes and demands. At their peril if the latter do not comply. Who said we are Independent? We are neocolonials, and the agenda is being pushed from above, including the World Bank and the IMF.

SSR must be turning over in his tomb, aghast at the blatant disavowal of the struggle he had waged for his country to attain political and institutional maturity, so that its citizens could raise their heads with pride in the comity of Nations. Instead, they are being downgraded to the level of stooges whose only role is to be at the beck and call of manipulators with connections in the right places. And we say we are a Republic!

Structures that had been put in place for thinking out the current and future direction of the country have been wiped out, so thinking and reflection that can guide future action have been substituted for by decision-making based on the whims of individuals and their cronies.

Can anyone explain, for example, why we need yet another study on Mare-Aux-Vacoas? Crisis management, it’s always crisis management that we are doing. Instead of recruiting experts and advisers as and when, depending on who is pulling which string, wouldn’t it have been better to have a standing structure at central level made up of professionals from multiple disciplines whose role would be to think for the country and guide the government, using data and inputs from as many sources as are necessary when considering issues relevant to the development of the country?

Several articles and collaborators in this paper have umpteen times drawn attention to the thinking deficit that has gripped this country following the dismantling of the Ministry of Planning and Economic Development. There is no coherence in strategies, and no sense of direction let alone a political philosophical underpinning to measures that are being pushed.

We have many Mauritians who are highly qualified and have both local experience and broad international exposure who could be inducted into a specific body that would ponder and advise on ‘upstream’ policy issues which would include, for example, priority setting, needs assessment, resources rationing and allocation, financing mechanisms, public and private roles in the country’s development, regulatory and incentive issues, reform and centralization, quality assurance and monitoring systems, policy process and policy analysis. We have italicized finance to underline that it is only one of the areas concerned in giving strategic direction to a country, and yet in this blessed land, such an important matter is lefty solely to the Ministry of Finance and that also mainly at budget time.

All the rest of the time we are left to do firefighting.

What this country urgently needs is the equivalent of a body to replace the defunct Ministry of Planning and Economic Development, set up on a permanent basis, that would be involved in continuous thinking and planning, and whose inputs would inform different government sectors regularly, throughout the year. Otherwise we will continue to find, in successive budgets, incongruencies that are exasperating honest, hardworking people who are becoming increasingly disillusioned with the band of so-called leaders, and very, very worried indeed about the future generations of this country.

Those who are at the helm will have to assume fully their responsibilities for what is going on, and going wrong. Too many cooks are spoiling the broth, and its smell is unbearable.

* Published in print edition on 11 November 2011

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