Is my tax money funding your political advertisement?

Published: July 27, 2014
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These ads lead to increase in government borrowing that result in increase in the debt burden, all of which falls on the taxpayers’ feeble shoulders. PHOTO: AFP

Open any newspaper and you’ll find government advertisements – be it provincial or federal – flashing their on-going or upcoming projects. The best term I could come up with for this exercise of self-promotion is ‘political advertising’, meant for boosting a politician’s profile or a junior level politician behaving like a sycophant for his party boss.

The phenomenon cuts through all political parties and ideologies, and affects all forms of media, print or electronic. Such adverts are often used to serve party politics rather than public policy.

The incumbent government spends the most on such commercials, which explains why the government’s budget for advertising is so high. Placing an ad in any newspaper requires money and the required funding usually comes from the taxpayers’ money. As taxpayers, we entrust the government to spend our tax amounts on utilities like healthcare, education, police, old age benefits and infrastructure. However, our hard earned money, from the exchequer, ends up either being hoarded in these politicians’ personal accounts or spent carelessly on mundane advertisements just to maintain a pseudo party image.

If the aforementioned utilities are not provided, then the government has failed in its responsibilities and obligations to us – the citizens. So if the government has failed what so called ‘success stories’ is it advertising?

When our money is spent on anything other than the provision of these utilities, it means it is not being utilised for the purpose it was collected for which in turn means that there is an element of corruption to all this. Therefore, the allegations of ‘squandering’ and ‘misspending’ on the government, that it is accused of oh-so-much, are not entirely uncalled for. But this has been a common case for many years now.

Politicians and bureaucracy are in a symbiotic relationship where politicians come and go, bureaucracy stays, and hence the latter needs to keep a check on the former. Civil servants who work in government information departments play a pivotal role in exhibiting a politician’s work and are the brains behind these political ads. It is with them that the greatest responsibilities lie. They need to make sure that they spend tax money wisely.

Moving on, during election time we witness these political parties go all out, ensuring that more adverts are being published during the months before an election than ever before. This is done primarily to publicise what the government has done since the last elections for the masses.

Somehow, political advertising becomes a form of sloganeering – meaningless and temporary – as many development projects that are supposedly initiated before elections and are heavily marketed, never really get completed. Their purpose is only to be used as promotional matter for the party to cash in more votes. Needless to say, tons of taxpayer money is wasted in these shenanigans.

Political advertisements can also impact media freedom; the sound of money can also be the sound of journalists selling out, often backed into a corner under pressure. Editorials are written in favour of the political party that invests more in the newspaper via political advertisements. Similarly, newspapers that usually hold neutral grounds or expose the government’s incompetence are intentionally deprived of such ads to devoid them of finances. This, in turn, forces them to follow a line more favourable to the government.

These ads also lead to an increase in government borrowing that results in an increase debt burden, all of which falls on the taxpayers’ feeble shoulders. There should be a mechanism to check successfully as to how government agencies are allocating their advertising funds. There is a growing consensus among international experts that guidelines should be put in place so that advertising expenditure is fair, regardless of who holds office.

In an era of squeezing government subsidies, I, as a taxpayer, am more than willing to help the disabled, the elderly, the schools and the police through my tax money but I am not ready to fund politicians. After all it’s not government money; it’s public money and should be spent in the public interest.

Kashif Hasan Syed

Kashif Hasan Syed

A graduate of Sindh Medical College, Karachi, he is currently associated with a leading pharmaceutical company and tweets as @kashifhasansyed‏ (twitter.com/kashifhasansyed)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.