It recently dawned on the nation that our much respected members of the Senate were each carrying a bag costing as much as US$800 (about Frw440, 000) drawn from the state coffers.
That means that bags for all the 26 Senators cost taxpayers a whopping $20,800 or an estimated Frw11, 440,000.
If all our MPs (Chamber of Deputies), members of the Cabinet and the bigwigs of our judiciary, were to demand the same classy bags, our Finance stalwarts would have to divert billions of taxpayers’ money possibly at the expense of a development programme.
Overall, it would cost us not less than Frw50m to furnish our top-level leaders with laptop-size bags, which they often abandon in their offices or cars.
The same money can cover the whole tuition for an MBA course for ten students at the School of Finance and Banking (SFB); it can also sponsor the same number of people to attend a two-week training course in Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) management in Singapore. And if well spent, the same amount can turn around the fortunes of residents in a small countryside village.
But the $800-per-bag saga for Senators is just one of those cases of unnecessary and exorbitant costs continuously borne by public institutions.
Government ministries and parastatals on countless less-important activities have spent billions of Francs. Just reflect on how much your own institution has spent on petty items during conferences!
You will notice that you could have comfortably done without a number of them, or at least with less-costly categories/types. Not that public institutions should be left behind in this competitive age.
Public institutions need to make their activities known to the ones they are meant to serve. They need to communicate clearly to the masses what their mission is, and what the public stands to benefit from their existence.
Through well-packaged information, they educate the people on those very issues for which they were established to address. They need to do those small but important things that make people easily identify themselves with them.
To build that corporate image is costly and never should we underestimate it. However, there are cases where some of our own public institutions have created an impression that they probably have business competitors.
They have virtually sunk billions in purchasing marketing/promotional materials that are not possessed by even the very fully-fledged profit-making companies, which ideally need them more to gain that competitive edge over business rivals.
I am not against the idea of public institutions going out of their way and making massive investments in marketing. But I believe in the ‘List of Preferences’ philosophy which should guide us in making the right investments in the right time. As a nation, there’re things that should come top on our agenda.
Emphasis on priority areas should be reflected in the day-to-day spending of public offices. But that can only be done if our institutions started to allocate resources with ‘Returns on Investment’ on each and every expense incurred at the back of their mind. And if that was the case, the $800-per-bag scandal wouldn’t have come up.
Another case of unnecessary Government spending is reflected in the number of conferences that civil servants are always attending.
Besides some of them being needless, they are held in costly venues, and much needed resources spent in purchasing participants’ booklets, bags, notebooks, meals, refreshments, etcetera. That is the situation, week in week out.
Ever considered how expensive these things are? Remember we’re a nation whose almost half the national budget is financed by donors.
If we are to really become financially independent in the near future as we aspire, those occupying influential positions need to revisit our spending practices.
Some of the expenses incurred by our public institutions make you conclude that that our country’s Recurrent Budget in actually unnecessarily huge.
This egregious waste of national resources is actually compounded by cases of dishonest elements in the public service who inflate prices for their personal benefit. Ultimately, it all takes a disastrous toll on our economy.
A people who have their nation at heart shouldn’t do such acts. A friend of mine recently told me of how a foreigner who heads one of our own parastatals shocked everyone at their workplace when he encouraged employees to contribute little money, which they used to buy and roast goats as they marked the New Year together.
They contributed Frw5,000 each which they used to buy two goats and soft drinks.
In the end, it was by far cost-effective and the employees ushered in the New Year in the same joyous mood as those who dinned and wined from expensive hotels on Government funds. With such thinking, we can surely save a lot of money to cater for as many pressing issues.
The author is the Rwanda Workforce Development Authority (WDA) Marketing & Communication Specialist