War on waste

The Prachanda-led coalition government has, soon after it took office, scrapped the provision of miscellaneous allowances ministers used to enjoy while embarking on foreign tours. More waste-cutting measures are expected. Most governments in the past, too, when they came to power, tried to convey a favourable public impression by pledging to cut down on unnecessary expenditure. Sometimes they promised to restrict unnecessary official foreign trips; sometimes they said they would rein in expenses by not holding expensive parties, or at least by not serving liquors, or by avoiding holding inessential seminars, especially in expensive hotels; sometimes they made the commitment to keep the size of government delegations abroad as small as possible; sometimes they decreed cutting back on fuel expenses of government officials. The list is endless.

The government could indeed save a good deal of money just by controlling obviously wasteful expenses. The ways in which waste has been happening are numerous. If the government can identify such financial loopholes one by one and take genuine steps to plug each hole, this alone would be highly appreciated by the general people and most of the employees. One hole is the fat and frequent meeting allowance that government and corporate officials are paid for the work for which they receive pay, perks and job security at the taxpayers’ expense. Internal meetings take place in any office and participation in them is part of the job of the employees concerned. Granting a fat allowance to a participant for each meeting ranging anywhere from Rs.500 to Rs.2,000 is unethical and wrong. The temptation for more and more meetings is therefore irresistible.

This may indeed be called a legalised form of corruption. It also produces justified resentment in most employees, and in the general public, aversion. Control needs to be exercised over other facilities provided to officials. There should be a reasonable limit beyond which the office should not pay, like telephone bills, petrol and diesel expenses. The misuse

of other office assets should also be strongly discouraged. And there is often a very thin line between simply wasteful expenditure and corruption.

Corruption produces waste, but each case of waste may not amount to corruption. The practice of some of the top civil servants and government leaders having corporations pay for some of the various expenses they incur should also be stopped. The enjoyment of double benefit needs also to be scrapped. On the other hand, if the present allowances for ministers, secretaries or officials are inadequate, reasonable increases may well be considered. But beyond that, the screws must be tightened. Officials have also developed an unhealthy tendency of leaving existing assets, such as vehicles, lying unused, and go in for new purchases. In many cases, repairs are just what are needed. Besides, cheaper vehicles should be preferred to expensive ones, except in cases where security requirements may dictate otherwise for certain dignitaries, like the President and the Prime Minister. In the final analysis, the government will need to prove that its measures are not a flash in the pan as in the past.