Is wasting public funds good governance?

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A government’s worth is judged by how it controls public money. Stringent control sends a positive signal to the population whereas leniency illustrates indifference, and people feel unhappy.

Every year, it’s the same story. The same words crop up: negligence, mishandling/mismanagement, irresponsibility, incompetence. The Report is publicly discussed. Frustration and outrage are expressed. References to accountability are made. And soon after, the whole thing is forgotten. Next year, we’ll have another round of the same story and the same reactions. No progress is made. Everything remains as it was. It’s sort of rigmarole.

Wastage of public funds is a serious affair. That’s why we need a Freedom of Information Act.

A situation festers when you’re aware there’s a problem, yet you do nothing about it. This has been happening over the years. Piecemeal measures have been taken here and there but have yielded nothing as mismanagement of public funds has been going on without interruption. We haven’t seen a determined attempt by this government or the previous one at addressing the issue.

Responsibility

Good governance implies responsibility. Where’s responsibility in paying a surplus of Rs 92 million to pensioners? How can the dead continue receiving their pensions in a computerbased world? When you consider the kind of reasons advanced to justify it, you’re at a loss whether to burst out laughing or to cry your heart out. (By the way, dead people receiving millions and those living receiving peanuts or nothing, isn’t it pure Bollywood stuff?)

Good governance requires the Minister to emphatically ask for explanations and clarifications. What will be done about the surplus paid? Is the system dysfunctional? Or are the officers not performing strictly enough? Is it a question of organisational weaknesses? What would have been the case if the Audit Bureau hadn’t pointed out the irregularities? Shouldn’t the Minister know? And shouldn’t we?
 
Inefficiency is leading to large financial losses and it painfully boomerangs on the government’s image. Just like people lose trust in a doctor who isn’t able to treat an infected wound, similarly people lose trust in a government that fails to manage public money. This can eventually undo a government. You can’t take public funds for granted. You’ve been elected to exert severe control over public funds and you’ve to be accountable for every cent lost.

People are asking questions and no answers are coming. How can a vital machine for killer diseases or a vehicle purchased expensively remain unused on account of defects? Why couldn’t they be repaired? On what conditions were they bought? Sophisticated material suffering breakdown and no spare parts available? It’s a bit too much. People are expecting plausible reasons not cock-and-bull arguments.

Waste is avoidable

Can we afford to have other situations like these in the future? I’m not saying irregularities can be eliminated, what I’m saying is that it’s possible to keep them within control and even diminish the number. If you’ve the goodwill and the interest of the nation at heart, you can identify what’s wrong and find out the methods that can be effectively used to approach the issue. Why does the wastage continue when today the best practices are common in our private organisations?

The Audit Report isn’t a farce. It highlights governmental failings. As such, it’s an eye-opener. The findings may be shocking but they can be a stepping-stone towards better management of funds. The Report mustn’t be shelved in a drawer or quietly pushed under the carpet. We can learn from the mistakes to make tomorrow a better day for our children.

Do our civil servants have the necessary skills, aptitudes and abilities to deal with public funds? People are in doubt. The cases of mismanagement are so many that people are asking themselves if they’re not doing their job in a perfunctory manner, i.e. hastily and thoughtlessly.

«Des fournisseurs qui ne sont même pas reconnus par le ministère, des lacunes notées lors des évaluations ou encore des cas qui s’apparentent à des conflits d’intérêts» (l’express 28.3.2018). This concerns the purchase of medicines for the Ministry of Health. Not only this. We also learn that a structured method for the purchase of medicines doesn’t exist. We would very much like the Minister to explain this to us. And we want to know why he has tolerated the situation. What assurance does he give the nation that such an unprofessional thing will not happen again?
 
We need to face issues, not evade them. We’ve to face reality, not escape from it. Ministers have to be accountable to the common man. Like it or not.

Flouting procedures tends to open the door to malpractices and corruption. Good governance is about stopping anything that is going wrong. Officers slack with rules must be reminded that they’re, above all, public servants. Their job is to save public money, not to waste it stupidly.

Fifty years after our Independence, our government still doesn’t know how to manage public money judiciously. It’s a shame.

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