By any standards it was an extraordinary week for political cynicism, even by comparison with the depths our leaders have plumbed before.

It started with a red-paint protest by an extremist, fully paid-up councillor who undermined the hard-won achievements of real, voluntary community activists, continued with the High Court giving the government a lesson in democracy and ended with a €6bn question.

Last week's preamble to the four-year plan was strong on big numbers about our debt, less certain on the diminishing ones (growth rates) and completely opaque about how we will get to where we are supposed to be in four years' time.

That detail, we have been told, will be kept from us until after the Donegal by-election and just before the budget – in the national interest, of course – in case the facts of our "credible pathway to recovery" upset the chances of getting the budget through and of the government clinging to power for another few months.

You could not make it up.

The announcement of the broad sweep of government plans provided us with so much of what we knew already and so little of what we wanted to know that it was hardly surprising that bank shares took a dive and bond market interest rates took a leap to 7.8%.

What the bond markets, the opposition leaders who will be the next government, and the taxpayer who will be footing the bill, had hoped to be revealed was some degree of detail about what the coalition's intentions are.

Nobody expected the full document. But the dry, soulless numbers that once again sum this country up as annual debt expressed as a percentage of GDP, and our ability to recover as a projection of ever-smaller growth rates up to 2014, leaves a vacuum that will be filled by rumour and guesswork.

It's like the two-year battle for full acknowledgement of the bank bailouts all over again. The failure to demonstrate how the policies supposed to get us to these fiscal targets can be implemented only adds to the "pervasive negativity" that the Taoiseach Brian Cowen so often decries. In the absence of any other narrative, is it any wonder?

The lack of clarity reinforces the paralysis in consumer spending. It generates what may prove to be unnecessary fear among the welfare-dependent.

Where is there an outline on the way the government is thinking about the creation of jobs? The only firm prediction from last week is that 100,000 people will give up on this country and emigrate by 2014.

What policy framework informs their plans for welfare reform, and the focus on helping people get back into work? Where is there a rethink on universal payments that benefit the rich to the detriment of the poor?

And what about education? They can't really be filling the funding gap – flagged for years now – with a quick-fix hike in registration fees, without any reform of the grant system, or contingency plans for a credible loans scheme.

What are their plans for a credible scheme to help distressed mortgage holders? This is surely one of the most pressing problems and one that threatens to undermine the bank rescue strategy as the moratorium on repossessions quickly runs out.

Some answers were expected last week, while we were supposed to see publication of the full plan in the next few days. Not now.

Apparently, the publication of possibly the most important document in the economic history of the state – on which our economic independence hangs and which was supposed to galvanise the nation to a massive heave to recovery – is to be delayed until after the 25 November by-election.

The political priority, we must assume, is not to rally the nation into recovery on the back of a clearly articulated reform programme.

Instead, it is to avoid the spooking of backbenchers, and to find time and money to appease the two independents on whom the coalition now relies in order to stay in power – Michael Lowry and Jackie Healy-Rae, neither of whom has ever been shy about putting local "needs" before those of the country.

Fianna Fáil and the Green Party – who have caught the bug because of their close association with their partners – have identified their own political interest so closely with the national interest, they can no longer even see how much damage they are wreaking on the body politic. They are perfectly prepared to allow at least four weeks of speculation and rumour take hold, rather than press ahead and do the right thing – publish the plan and stand or fall on it.

They are cynically prepared to use scarce taxpayers' money to make a case to the Supreme Court as a means of delaying by-elections in Dublin and Waterford that will surely, and democratically, put them out of power.

Everyone understands that there has to be a deep austerity package to get the public finances back on track. But what they deeply resent is that there is no change in the way government and the country works, not to mention the political mindset that got us into this mess in the first place.