Weekly (Port Louis)

Mauritius: Sweetening the Pill

opinion

There are many instances in which the government can legitimately talk about its achievements - the cynics might say blow its own trumpet - but the audit report is not one of them.

Nor is it meant to be. Year in and year out, this exercise has been used to blow the lid off the excesses of the government, the waste of public funds and the alleged malpractices of some civil servants.And there is nothing positive about this. There shouldn’t be.

The suggestion of the head of the civil service to the director of audit to equally highlight the good work done by the government is ill-advised, we believe. If ministers do a good job, that's what they are paid for and do not need a pat on the back for that.

They can also talk about their achievements in press conferences which we relay to our readers. We have, for example, faithfully reported, in this very edition, the state of the Mauritian economy as presented by Minister of Finance Xavier Duval in his last communication exercise. So has the rest of the press.

The director of audit cannot be expected to duplicate that in any part of his report. Yes, our job is to analyze the report and if there are fewer excesses due to some measures taken after the last report, we are literate enough to see them by ourselves. And I do hope there are. That's what civil servants are paid for.

But more than the incongruity of such a move, it is its futility which is more striking. The audit report is met every year with the same indifference. The opposition makes a bit of noise - not too much as they are guilty of the very same sins - because they are paid to do so. The press criticizes because it is our job to do so and the rest of the population gets on with their more urgent business.

You can only talk about the excesses and malpractices of governments so many times before people get bored and move on. And the culprits sit pretty in their usual overweening arrogance, secure in the knowledge that nothing wrong that they have done is unprecedented or that it would be punished in any way.

Who even remembers the sum of waste highlighted by the audit report last year? Or the year before that? Or 10 years ago? The audience for "news" about the waste of public funds moved on ages ago. Yet, the director of audit works hard at the job, tabulating and cross-referencing the expenses. In the average person's imagination, however, the astronomical fi gures presented do not translate into anything meaningful. Add the vested interests of part of civil society to the mix and shake.

An audit report should lead to popular demand for far-reaching reforms which would sanction public waste and goad those who are handling public money to become more effi cient and more careful in the way they spend it. That has not happened and is unlikely to do so. So the fears of the head of the public service are probably misplaced. This makes his move even more futile.

The apathetic reaction we are likely to get again is predictable and can be summed up in five words: we don't give two hoots.

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