Friday, 15 May 2009

Mental Health Audit

I recently had plans to tape a talk show with an official from the Supreme Audit Agency who was anxious to make the body’s financial audit report on the state’s various institutions available to the public — all in the name of transparency and accountability.

The agency was paying handsomely for the program to be aired, and to its credit, it seemed very serious in wanting to make a success of it. I imagined that if some of their findings on financial irregularities would be followed up in earnest as a result, the government would be able to recoup a significant chunk of state money lost through corruption and inefficiencies.

All in all, I figured, a sincere effort worth supporting for the sake of the health of the country’s budget.

As the interview was to be taped at the television station sometime before noon, I spent the greater part of the morning reviewing the copious material put together by the agency’s staff and having makeup plastered on my face, while the crew finished setting up their equipment and the studio backdrop they’d been working on since dawn.

Ten minutes before the taping was to begin, however, my producer called to inform me that it was canceled. To say that I was irritated by this sudden decision was putting it mildly, but when I heard the reason behind it I was flabbergasted.

What happened? As it transpired, my guest, an agency official who according to staff was quite high-ranking and eager to appear on television, arrived at the main lobby of my office at the scheduled time and asked to be directed to the studio.

The lobby security guard, who assumed that the taping was to take place in the news studio, directed him to another lobby a mere meters away.

This was not correct. The taping was to take place in a non-news studio in the building closer to the main lobby.

The agency staff member who was already waiting for the official was made aware of the mistake and immediately called him to point out the error and inform him he had to return to the main lobby.

So what’s the big deal, I asked. It was a matter of getting his driver to turn around and drop him at the right lobby. I mean, on foot it takes less than a minute to get from one lobby to the other. By car, a matter of seconds.

A major deal as it turned out. Because instead of turning back to the initial lobby, my talk show guest decided that enough was enough and zoomed off in his car in a big huff, leaving his staff open-mouthed and the crew at a loss. And no amount of apologizing from his staff and the producer could convince him to change his mind. He preferred, apparently, to have wasted his time going all the way to the TV station and not tape a show rather than be told to go back to the same lobby by his underling because of a harmless miscommunication.

Thus, there was to be no taping that day.

Now, here was a senior official in charge of auditing serious financial reports in the country — and ready to reveal their irregularities — displaying a sulking behavior that would have made him a laughing stock in elementary schools.

His staff was understandably put out by the whole incident. I was embarrassed for them and felt sorry they had to endure a man who insisted on receiving, swallowing and digesting offense when none was given.

I genuinely wondered what actually went on in his mind where instead of simply returning to the main lobby, with perhaps a sharp word at his staff if need be, he chose to tell his driver to speed off back home or to whatever planet he came from where such behavior might be deemed normal.

Never mind financial audits. It looks like what this country really needs is a mental audit of its public officials, especially those occupying high places.

Perhaps we need tests similar to the ones that schoolchildren and company employees are constantly subjected to in order to weed out potential psychos, the people whose gray matter is a bit on the soft side and whose self-image is so inflated that they fail to see where ego ends and idiocy begins. Otherwise this country is in danger of being run by a bunch of thin-skinned, egocentric and insecure individuals concerned more about having their bag carriers and hangers-on always at their beck and call rather than getting any serious work done.

Or perhaps they’re already running this country. (Desi Anwar. First published in The Jakarta Globe)

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