Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Congress campaign for austerity

This must have been the shortest austerity campaign in recent times; the Congress Government, in a measure to try to get some political points, decided to try and make a show of an austerity program. Hence, 2 ministers were evicted from their hotels (even though they were apparently paying for their stay out of their pocket) and told to stay in the State Guest houses, ministers were told to fly economy (and the whole country had fun when the apparent discussion inside the cabinet where many opposed this campaign was exposed); then you had the spectacle whereby Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi went by mass consumer transport - Sonia Gandhi by an economy ticket, and Rahul Gandhi by train. It was soon that the press highlighted the costs, with many more tickets booked inside the plane and train for security reasons. Further, there was grumbling about how SPG security is based on surprise trips where no one knows the exact transport, and here there were press people along with Rahul Gandhi.
The press took up this campaign in right earnest, with the first fun involving a Congress MP on the same flight as Sonia Gandhi, who had to give up his first class seat in order to come back to economy. And then the press took up the actual costs that politicians spend on their office, on their vehicles, and so on, to the extent that the Government would have regretted going on such a campaign. None of our politicians of the day are the renunciation type, the saint type, and all of them like their luxuries.
In some cases, it is downright foolhardiness. When a Minister goes abroad for a conference or a discussion, you need the Minister to be rested and relaxed, now bone-weary after multiple flights cramped in economy.
The biggest problem is that instead of focusing on areas where the Government can really save money, it is looking at cosmetic show effects. If the Government were to focus on leakages in social sector programs such as the Employment Scheme, the PDS, do project completion in time and without cost over-run and try to reduce the corruption endemic in the Government, it could save incredible amounts of money. But there is no gain in taking such an effort, that removes money from middlemen down the line.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 11:59 AM