Committee of Supplies: Missed opportunity
Taken seriously, the examination of the Budget at the Committee of Supplies (Coms) stage could have been a very useful exercise geared towards protecting the interest of the country and its population. But the evasive approach adopted by a few ministers in response to the queries raised by the Members of the Opposition made a mockery that turned it into an ineffective tool.
Surely that was not what was intended by those who devised that mechanism, and it is very sad indeed for the country that there has been a perversion of the role of Coms. What takes place is more like a sparring duel with the sole objective of scoring over the opponent, and in the process the essence is lost.
All manner of devices are resorted to: dwelling lengthily on policy issues rather than concentrating on the budgetary aspects, wasting of time because the Speaker is struggling to maintain ‘ORDER! ORDER!’ and unpalatable remarks made across the divide, somewhat more frequently than during routine sessions of the National Assembly (NA). Whether democracy was meant to be like that or is it specifically the downgraded Mauritian version is open to question, but there is no doubt that things are no longer the same.
This is indeed the view of two former Speakers, expressing themselves in a daily yesterday. They were quite sure that the level of debate in the National Assembly has never sunk so low. One does not have to go very far to come to this conclusion. Some people had been naïve enough to think that since the proceedings of the NA would be shown on TV, the Members would take pains to upgrade and fine tune their interventions in terms of content, delivery and language. Alas, they have been sorely disappointed, and there is no indication that any of this is going to get better in a foreseeable future.
Specifically about Coms, the pattern is the same whichever party is governing. If ridiculing were more elegant, and were at least accompanied by giving out the information sought, it would be passably acceptable. In our NA, neither of these conditions is fulfilled, and since the Speaker is only trying to be a good schoolmaster, he has no control over what material he has in front of him.
As a result, it is only through the Annual Audit Report (AAR) that the public comes to know about how much of waste there is in public expenditure – using taxpayers’ money naturally. If only the questions put at Coms were answered correctly, money belonging to the public would have had a chance of being better utilized, and the AAR would have been lighter to digest. As it is, the next one will again highlight all the inefficiencies with, yet again, hardly any corrective action taken — simply because at the highest level there seems to be no seriousness in pre-empting loss, and effecting saving and cost-cutting in the larger national interest.
Equally, given the current state of affairs, it would be futile to make an appeal to the Members of the NA to take matters more seriously, whether they are in government or in opposition. We speak very glibly about benchmarking ourselves on Singapore. We have, alas, light years to go…