In the last decade, those in ministerial ranks have spent millions on hospitality and entertainment.
While rules allow the elected and the selected to spend, they are also entitled to discretionary grants. The audit report found that these grants were however, not used and that through adjustments, the state was bearing the cost of all their hospitality and entertainment expenses. That the cost of a face cream for a minister’s wife was listed for a claim indicate that personal expenses were adjusted through funds meant for development activities.
The audit’s findings were not heeded and remained confidential for about two years.
But as details on the spending surface, more questions are asked. What happens now? Nothing much, it appears. The audit report issued three years ago did not deter anyone from spending. Would accountability be fixed? No. The rules allow them to spend but do not specify what expenses constitute hospitality and entertainment. A draft guidelines was never endorsed.
Despite being aware of the loopholes in the system, there are some who argue that an issue involving public officials and public fund is about morals. There are also some delusional ones, who see these expenses as investments. When we have an audit report highlighting the weaknesses of our policy makers, the issue, we should realise is beyond the argument of interpretation.
It is about putting such indulgences into perspective to look at the bigger picture. The country is celebrating ten years of democracy. What does this tell us about our investigation bodies like the audit authority and the anti-corruption commission, institutions empowered to ensure check and balance? What does it tell us about our decade old democracy, when those in the executive, the legislature and the judiciary are as guilty?
Audit findings have become akin to parliamentary resolutions. They have the bark but lack the bite. The Supreme Court last month ruled adjustment as embezzlement and convicted nine officers in the dessung case. Now we have audit and finance ministry reports showing our former ministerial rank officials including the Chief Justice adjusting their personal expenses under hospitality and entertainment.
The audit has made several recommendations on the management of such expenses. No guidelines were developed nor a ceiling set on actual expenses even though these expenses were on the rise. In the 11th Plan, these expenses increased by about 35 percent from the 10th Plan.
We should be worried but we aren’t. The new government, which has ambitious plans and policies and a pledge to recoup about Nu 10 billion also does not appear too keen to implement these recommendations.
Some things don’t change. Not even when you are elected to bring about change.