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 itmeant 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.
When Bill Clinton’s story with Monica Lewinski went public, the press in the US had a field day. It is their culture that, as an American journalist summed it up in our pages a few weeks ago, “In America, if you are a public figure, your life is open to scrutiny.” When the Anglo-Saxon press unveiled François Mitterrand’s double life, the French, on the other hand, were outraged at what they considered an invasion of the private life of a public figure. Over here, we have always had the sense that what goes
on in people’s lives or in the lives of those who are willing to trade their favours is none of our business whether these people are private or public figures. It still is not.
So, let’s first get rid of the fallacy that the debate which has been raging on here and which has earned us a gagging order is about private lives or some sort of morbid curiosity. It is even less a debate about feminism. If some newborn feminists see in it a way to interrupt their boredom, good for them. But it is not a feminist issue.
Then, let’s all be grateful for one thing here: the fact that government coalitions do break up. How else would all the dirt and the shady deals the powerful connive to clinch behind our backs ever get out of their secretive offices? Now that the MSM and the Labour party are no longer in bed together, we are slowly but surely learning things we were never supposed to be privy to.
Of course, no one is gullible enough to believe that anything that is happening now on either side of our ‘august assembly’ is done in the interest of anyone but that of the little selves we have elected to supposedly protect our interests. No one believes that there is an ounce of altruism in the action of the cheap movie we are being subjected to. Nobody believes that the alleged juicy contracts being denounced were suddenly discovered by Pravind Jugnauth on his way to the police headquarters. No one believes that the allegations of pedophilia only came to his knowledge the day he gave the interview to Top FM. And we believe even less that it is principle which has driven Sheila Bappoo to hot foot her way to the CCID to denounce Pravind Jugnauth for the allegations he made against her. There has been no love lost between her and the Jugnauths since the day Jugnauth senior, with his usual ‘elegance’ called her ‘poutou rassi’ (untranslatable). So we are witnessing an awful lot of acrimony, vindictiveness and score settling.
Nonetheless, the fact remains that some very serious allegations have been made and apparently supported by disconcertingly detailed evidence. Allegations involving the misuse of public funds; allegations of favouritism; allegations of pedophilia which no society can casually dismiss. And, Pravind Jugnauth was unwittingly – thank goodness for human obtuseness – given the opportunity to bring everything out into the public domain. We are absolutely not interested in why or who or when. While trying to bear in mind the motivations behind the allegations being made and, while we agree that minors should never have been roped into a debate they have nothing to do with, one simple question begs an answer: are these allegations founded or not? If they are, should the press be deprived of its obligation to its readers – that of informing them.
Any methods used to stand in the way of that are unacceptable in any democracy.