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Monday, March 23, 2009

"It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit." - Harry S Truman

[Someone: It's even more amazing what you can accomplish when you do not have to care about who gets the blame.]


Someone: One of the reasons why the budget keeps going up - and this is something that applies to the civil service in general (and it's something I'm very sore about, because it's a friggin' waste of taxpayers' money) - is because of this mentality:

1. X Unit in Ministry of Y gets, say, $100 (for ease of explanation) to spend for the financial year.
2. Come Februrary or March, X Unit has only spent $70, and may probably only spend $80 by the end of the financial year.
3. Person in charge of finances balks at realisation, and starts spending money mercilessly, so that X Unit's expenditure becomes $90, $95, $99 - anything, as long as it's very close to $100.
4. The next year, X Unit requests for $110 or is given $110 anyway by their higher-ups, in light of their expenditure for the previous year.

Which is really stupid, because the expenditure has been artificially inflated, so this 'budgeting' shit is a farce. Alternatively,

1. X Unit in Ministry of Y gets, say, $100 (for ease of explanation) to spend for the financial year.
2. Come Februrary or March, X Unit has already spent the $100 because of irreverent and irrelevant spending.
3. X Unit requests for $120 the next year in light of expenditure from previous year.

Supposedly they get audited and stuff. But seriously... you think it works?

It really gets my goat because I have heard so many times the phrase in its various permutations of "Got money, just spend" or "Must spend if not next year they give us less money". W.r.t. to the latter phrase, if you can only spend $70 or $80 a year, then you want so much money for what? I know this is to have some kind of 'buffer' but still... there should be another way around this. Anyway, the burden merely gets transferred to everybody in the long run, because we're paying taxes for this kind of stupidity that has been engendered in the civil service after years and years of 'tradition'.

Me: So what do you expect them to do?

Frankly I can't think of a better solution. Even if you assure departments that they will not have their budgets cut if they don't spend all of it, they will still want larger budgets.

Presumably department spending is audited properly to make sure it is not anyhow spent. Other than that I can't think of anything.

Someone: Roll-over leftover budgets into 'reserves'? I.e. departments with left-over budgets from the previous FY will have the surplus rolled-over to a 'reserve' that department can tap into the next FY? Sort of to allay the fears of departments that there won't be enough money to spend and to prevent overall government expenditure from artificial inflation?

NB: I think this applies to more contexts than the Civil Service; many of the gripes people have about it could be and are voiced about big companies in general.
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