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Santos Pisses Away Colombian Tax Dollars on His Own Branding

By: Javier Garay - @Crittiko - Aug 7, 2015, 1:45 pm
Poll after poll, Colombians have demonstrated an increasingly negative view of President Juan Manuel Santos.
In poll after poll, Colombians have demonstrated an increasingly negative view of President Juan Manuel Santos. (LaFM.com)

EspañolColombian Finance and Public Credit Minister Mauricio Cárdenas recently announced that the government will have to adopt an austerity budget in 2016. The drop in international oil prices has drastically slashed the Colombian government’s revenues.

While it sounds good in theory, it remains to be seen just how austere the government’s spending will actually be. With a state that has expanded its powers way beyond its essential role, coupled with the deliberate actions of bureaucrats and politicians to confuse the public, government expenditures have become an obscure mess. Vagueness and bureaucracy have made overseeing the state’s spending an impossible task.

Consider, for example, the government’s wasteful spending on public relations. Colombians have an increasingly negative view of the Juan Manuel Santos administration. The president’s approval ratings have declined in poll after poll, a severe blow to his enormous ego, which he tries to conceal with unwavering optimism.

Maybe that’s why Santos has rolled out a new strategy: flooding the airwaves with ads promoting his administration’s supposed achievements. Of course, by achievements he means the government’s out of control spending.

The commercials claim that the government is fulfilling its promises; they boast infrastructure projects and invite citizens to join the most denigrating paternalistic programs.

The state’s propaganda claims that welfare programs have changed the lives of millions of Colombians, offering us a glimpse into how politicians view citizens: incapable, passive people, who await the charity and altruism of benevolent government officials. Their view could not be more arrogant, or further from the truth.

Unfortunately, there is no way for us to know for sure how much of our money the state is throwing away in its attempt to repair Santos’s fractured image. Advertising expenses are nowhere to be found in the 2015 budget.

When you visit the Presidential Office’s website, there is a link to the Orwellian “Transparency and Access to Public Information” section. But before we can access the content, we must suffer through another of the state’s tedious, self-indulgent videos, in which the government tries to persuade us that the president and his cabinet are not only superior human beings, but also immensely generous and altruistic.

Without them, Colombians could never make it on their own, is the message we are meant to take home.

Once you get past the ad, you’ll get to the government’s monthly budgetary breakdown. Simply put, since January 2015, for the item marked “propaganda and advertising,” the data shows no funds having been allocated — a grand total of COL$0.00. So much for “transparency.”

Maybe the ads were paid for during the previous fiscal year, or the government for whatever reason doesn’t consider their radio and television commercials “propaganda,” but these technicalities make tracking government spending harder, not easier. Citizens cannot possibly guess what some bureaucrat had in mind when categorizing an expense.

It begs the question: how will we know if the government adopts an austerity budget in 2016 or not? They will say they cut spending on X or Y, but we can’t be sure they just didn’t reallocate funds to another item.

More transparency would be a step in the right direction. That would do much more for the government’s approval ratings that these ridiculous ads.

The public would feel better if the government acted more transparently. Colombians would also appreciate their tax money being spent on something other than government commercials that try to convince them of accomplishments they do not see or need.

They would applaud an administration that strove to reduce obstacles that prevent individuals from building their own futures, according to their own priorities, instead of treating them like children in need of constant assistance.

Putting aside how wasteful this sort of spending is, it is baffling that a government would insist on diverting time and resources — how much, we will never know — just to strengthen the president’s ego.

In the minds of our rulers, good management boils down to more spending on public works, projects, and programs, regardless of their efficiency or justification.

Translated by Adam Dubove.

Javier Garay Javier Garay

Javier Garay is a professor at the Externado University of Colombia. He has written two books on international issues, such as development, after his doctoral dissertation focused on the same topic. Follow him on Twitter @crittiko and through his personal blog, Crittiko.