Day 529: Do Public Funds Belong to the Public?

The answer:  technically yes, but in practice...? Mostly not.

I am currently studying for an exam all about Ethics in Public Administration and I came across an interesting little fact today that we are all aware of, but that we just don't think about that much:

Public money belongs to the public.

This means that our governments are supposed to lay out budgets according to what we, the people, see as being most important. In other words, the national budget is public policy expressed in amounts of money. Obviously this would be in an ideal democracy, and most democracies simply do not seem to reflect this principle. This is still what a democracy "should" look like - what is interesting is what the spending and other policies and actions of governments are reflecting back to us.

The South African Constitution is a very good constitution. It gives the highest importance to basic rights for all ages, genders, shapes, sizes, colours, faiths and customs of people. But if you look at the government's actions and policies, these rights are not reflected as being the most important thing. In fact, all of the public services that are provided with the purpose of fulfilling the most basic of human rights like education, health care, housing, nutrition, etc are sorely inefficient in almost every aspect. Public schools and hospitals are underfunded, understaffed, mismanaged, unregulated and show no regard for those whom they are supposed to be helping. A large portion of the population live in temporary or dangerous houses that are more often than not severely overcrowded. The stipends paid by the government to those citizens in need (like the unemployed, pensioners, children of the unemployed) is nowhere near enough to provide even one person with the minimum nutritional requirements in a month - nevermind housing, education, electricity, clean water, or clothing.

These conditions reflect the reality of the government's position. The funds that go to the fulfilling of basic human rights and other public services are simply inadequate - and are often also mismanaged by corrupt or incompetent public officials. This reflects far more accurately the policy and "opinion" of the government elect than the words in the constitution.

What does corruption tell you about those people who are working in the government, who are supposed to be promoting the best interests of the people? When public funds are used for personal enrichment, how does this reflect on what these supposed "protectors" of the people actually think and feel for others and their country? How does this reflect on their regard for human rights?

So, in a country that's government is allocating and using funds contrary to the will of the people, can this government be regarded as democratic? If only 60% of the population that is legible to vote does so, can the government still be regarded as democratic or as manifesting the will of the people? If a government spends huge amounts of public funds on weapons and wars instead of fulfilling the rights of the people, can that government still be regarded as a democracy? If a government is blatantly operating in ways that are contrary to the will of the majority of citizens, should that government not be regarded as totalitarian? If a government misuses public money, or uses it in ways that do not reflect the constitution or the will of the people, can that government not be regarded as illegal? How many governments actually function according to the laws of the country they govern?

Remember, a government is made up of people - it is a collection of individuals and is not a separate entity that can be blamed for the abuses and wrong doings of its public officials. Those people working in the government are products of our collective society, so we can also not blame "them" (government employees) as being inherently evil people - they are people just like you and me and ni knowing this and knowing the nature of our society, there is a good chance that most people would do exactly the same if they were in that position. There is no way that we can claim innocence, there is no justification for blaming "everyone else" - there is only the reality that we must all work together to create a society that we can all be proud of.