Touria Prayag's Blog

L’Express Weekly, 4 November 2011

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on February 28, 2012

Budget speech: the steps he will not take

We are not jumping the gun here. It is this evening that Xavier Duval will present the budget he has been crafting and we are expecting a “ responsible budget” as announced by both the prime minister and his minister of fi nance. We do not know what measures the budget will include but we do know what it will, unfortunately, not include.

Let’s begin by saying that the minister of fi nance starts with a huge advantage over his predecessor. He has not systematically criticized the measures taken in the previous budgets. Whatever direction he may choose to take will, therefore, not create any embarrassment. That is plenty of leg room as far as politics are concerned.

In terms of the economy, however, he has a mountain of problems in his in- tray. The backdrop against which this budget is to be presented is that of economic uncertainty, an unprecedented drought, a global recession which promises to worsen and a sharp drop in Foreign Direct Investment.

Economic operators here and abroad are looking out for a strong signal to beckon them into the fi eld. Unions, on the other hand, are probably sharpening their knives as we speak thinking in terms of wealth distribution.

There is no doubt that a budget has two legs: as someone once said, “ The government cannot give to anybody anything that the government does not fi rst take from somebody else.” So, we do expect the usual tightening of belts. And there is nothing wrong with that when economic straits so warrant. Except that a large chunk of whatever savings the country makes as a result are blown away year in and year out by some ministers and their protégés. The number of QUANGOS, ‘ advisers’ and other positions, most of which only exist to provide ‘ jobs for the boys’, is scandalous. And so are the advantages they help themselves to. Disproportionate salaries and fringe benefi ts are added to very costly trips. As soon as they are appointed, they go to town, starting with taking the plane more often than we board buses, business class please, thank you! The per diems they feast on ravenously go some way to emptying the state coffers.

Most of these trips are wasteful and bring absolutely nothing to the country. We recall that a few years ago, three high- ranking offi cials and their chairman and CEO had lined up for a luxurious trip to ( hold your breath) interview some candidates for one position! We only got to know about this when the PM opposed his veto to the trip and only one person ended up going… with his wife. We also recall the other chairman who sulked so much and spewed so much venom in the media because the minister in charge did not approve one of his numerous trips.

To put an end to this heart- breaking waste and junketeering, the solution is simple: replace the per diem with an “ expense account” system with clear guidelines and let every minister, MP or chairman who wants to travel at the expense of the state justify his trip in terms of how much it will bring to the country. Ministers should also justify their expenses and the budget defi cits they run up through the introduction of a Fiscal Responsibility Act.

But these are measures that the minister is unlikely to take. And this is why talk about making sacrifi ces on the altar of austerity, without the leaders and their protégés showing the way and leading by example, will ring hollow.

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