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VIEWPOINT: Telling Tales

Once upon a time there was an accountable government, and other fairy tales.

The theme for this month’s issue is transparency and accountability in government, a good thing is that everybody wants. But what we want and what we get are not always the same thing.

It’s depressing, frankly. So let’s tell a fairy tale instead, to remind us all of what we should be aspiring to.

Once upon a time there was a country where the small and efficient public sector was designed for service and staffed by well-trained, highly motivated people. They were all passionate about making the world a better place for all, especially those who started out on the muddy, neglected end of the not very level playing field of life.

In this country, every child received a good education in a well-equipped school. Their teachers knew they would never be rich, but enjoyed the respect of their pupils and their communities for doing a vital job, and doing it well.

All the children arrived in the morning ready to work hard through a full day of learning, because they’d had a good night’s sleep in a snug, secure home, eaten a healthy breakfast and travelled safely to school using an efficient public transport system.

The children finished their schooling well versed in all the basic skills of life and work. Some of them went on to study further at universities and technical institutes; those who needed financial support got it, and nobody was burdened by decades’ worth of debt. Businesses prospered in this country and employers were eager to take on new workers, especially the young, who were notably hard-working and productive.

These businesses and their employees were supported by a legal system that protected everyone’s rights, without becoming overly intrusive, and was consistently and fairly applied to all.

Government departments and agencies were efficiently managed, and they reported back to the people regularly and accurately about how they were doing. Financial records were open for any citizen to inspect, helping to keep the government honest and accountable.

Every now and then a couple of civil servants tried to work the system to their own benefit, but they were quickly identified and disgraced – and if they’d broken the law they were convicted and punished. Oh, and everybody drove according to the rules of the road. I said it was a fairy tale.

The thing is, this vision is not completely impossible – at least some countries in the world still aspire to it, and getting halfway there would be a great thing. When did we stop even trying? ❐

Author: Kevin Phillips CA(SA) is the Managing Director of idu Software.