Budget: Maurice – Ce n’est pas un plaisir…

By TP Saran

Circular No. 7 of 2012 emanating from the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, meant to ‘guide Ministries/Departments on the process to be followed to develop policy proposals and appropriate reform for the 2013-15 Programme-Based Budget’, inevitably and rightly points out that ‘our fiscal space will be very limited next year with the ongoing Euro Zone crisis and subdued growth prospects in developed and emerging economies.’ (italics added)

So far so good, and it does not require a magician to understand that the effects of the knowingly and toxically created financial crisis of 2008 are still being felt, especially in Europe. We also know that times ahead are going to be difficult and everybody is expected to tighten the belt – in fact, to have tightened it at the very beginning of the aftermath of the crisis.

But unfortunately, whenever it comes to the question of cutting down on costs and consumption, it is always the lumpen masses that are expected to do so, whereas the rulers and the have’s are tacitly given free rein to continue splurging. The world stops for others, but for them the swinging goes unabated.

Barring the essential services, where the specificities do not always allow for projections to be made and contingencies may arise abruptly, there are certain sectors where too obvious wastage takes place. One such place is the Ministry of Tourism, where everything seems to be beyond any form of control whatsoever, and the moneys squandered have not given the returns expected. Festivols and festivals with imported bare-bottomed exhibits flown in at taxpayer’s expense – in millions — have done the opposite of what was expected: tourist arrivals have not increased; if anything, they have declined. It may no doubt have something to do with air access also, but the same situation as regards the latter prevailed before when there were more tourist arrivals.

That is why the circular cited, coming from the Ministry of Finance now headed by the former Minister of Tourism Xavier-Luc Duval, during whose mandate the meaningless and utterly useless slogan Maurice c’est un plaisir was commissioned as a brand for a hefty Rs30 million, sounds so ironical. One wonders whether impact assessments of such exorbitantly expensive projects and promotion campaigns have ever been done, not to speak of the other equally wasteful official festivals manoeuvred by that ministry and the Ministry of Arts and Culture. Year-in and year-out the same events, known to be consumptive of public money that could have been more usefully spent elsewhere, keep being repeated. Is there no central guidance as to what limits the country should set itself when it comes to taxpayer’s money?

Similarly, in total contradiction to the Maurice Ile Durable project which, four years on, is still in the throes of emerging, our august members of Parliament, ministers included, have not deemed it fit to refrain from renewing their fleet of grosses cylindrées – save for a lone exception, Mr Alan Ganoo.

Of course the Financial Secretary has to do his job and make his case, but we are left to wonder whether, if mindsets do not change fundamentally and the good example does not come from above, what will really change for the better – if at all.

* * *

It’s always about doing more with less!

There can be no results without resources, and yet public officers are expected to do miracles with ever more constrained means. They have already been warned: to re-prioritize, meaning cutting down – whereas rulers can surround themselves with a plethora of advisers both local and based abroad. While as we open ourselves to the world this should not be an issue, since an outsider can sometimes bring a fresh perspective, such a person can also do harm by influencing decisions with the ensuing expenses without taking into consideration the genuine priorities of a sector.

This is also in dire contrast to a drab reality: the environment in which public officers carry out their daily duties. The largesse extended to sundry advisers, in terms of office space for example, and logistic facilities for the foreigners who are flown in, makes even more dire the dilapidated, cramped, untidy state of the many government offices and utilities such as stores to be found in various ministries.

The most well-known of these is the Emmanuel Building, where pigeon droppings render the atmosphere pestilential every so often, and leakage invades the carpets and sickens the occupants. Nothing long-term has been done so far to address such issues, according to those in the know who work there. And yet it is said that civil servants are a pampered lot, and ministers who wallow in their lavish offices pounce on them at the slightest excuse. This is not meant to condone the fewer who do not perform, but then they are the ones who get occult protection too!

Nevertheless, the fact remains that unless government offices are modernised and the appropriate amenities provided, those who have to work in them are bound to be demotivated, with the consequences that this state of affairs entails.

As the country gears itself towards Budget day, let those who pilot the process put in a dose of holistic realism, that is, consider all the interlinked aspects as in a supply chain. The top levels should not expect the bottom rungs to deliver if the former themselves do not give the proper signals and lead by example. We are very far indeed from that situation. No, right now and for the foreseeable future: Maurice, ce n’est pas un plaisir! It may sound unduly cynical, but that’s the truth, like it or not. And we have not even commented on the drugs networks with their kings and queens, the eruption and confrontations in Roche Bois, and… and…

* Published in print edition on 21 September 2012

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