Aistė Čepukaitė. Government First, Taxpayers Second

Lithuanian people seem to be acclimatised to government promises just as they are used to the changing seasons. Just like we impatiently wait for spring each year, we’re waiting for some change as well. The only difference is that spring is bound to come eventually while the government fails to deliver.

We have been hearing about the reform of the public sector for a long time; however, the government tends to look after themselves first. In fact, the population of Lithuania has decreased by 300 thousand since 2010, which is the number of people living in Kaunas, the second largest city in the country, but the number of public servants did not change. Undeniably, the public sector has to be restructured and reduced to meet efficiency standards, but the government is reluctant to reform; it is not clear whom an army of public officials serves – the taxpayer or themselves.

The Lithuanian Free Market Institute has recently examined public expenditure on the maintenance of government structures and functions, including the parliament, parliamentary and governmental offices, municipal administrations, revenue service, contributions to the EU budget, etc. – everything concerned with the upkeep of bureaucratic structures. The results show that the government has not been thrifty for it spent 800 million or over 2% of the GDP. It turns out that the government is not as cheap as some officials claim it to be. In reality, we spend more than the EU average.

Naturally, a costly government is expected to provide quality services, but the reality is disappointing. According to the Word Bank, the performance of the public sector in Lithuania is below the EU average. But even when the results are that uninspiring, the government’s concern for its own well-being persists. Last year alone the spending on business trips, training, representation and transportation for government officials has increased by 6.5 million, skyrocketing to 75 million.

The spending is outrageous not only in its sheer size, but in its form as well. For a few years now, the government could be diagnosed with the “fourth quarter syndrome”. There is a trend at the end of a year to reward oneself by squandering money on representation, transportation, experts, training, and, of course, bonuses. Paradoxically, thousands receive ever-growing bonuses for excellent work performance and some cases they amounts have quadrupled!

If spending on the public sector is so high, why are citizens and businesses not satisfied with the performance of the government? Don’t we usually get our money back for faulty products? It is a shame we cannot receive refunds on our taxes.

However, we shall soon see whether our new government will fulfil our expectations on restructuring the public sector as the Office of the Government is already preparing for a reform. Other state and municipal institutions should follow as well, because the taxpayer money is limited and will not be enough to satisfy everyone’s needs. The public discussion is raging on how to boost the budget and where to increase taxation; however, the government should first calculate the potential savings if its institutions lived according to their means.

By sticking to EU average, we could save at least 80 million in government expenditure. After all, we are outperformed by countries that devote the same or even a smaller portion of their GDP to finance the public sector. The government costs less but performs better in Ireland, Estonia, Belgium, Austria, the Netherlands, Denmark, Finland and some other states and we should be measuring up to their standard.

If the government officials would take care of their citizens at least as much as they do to provide themselves, they would not only stop wasting taxpayers’ money, but also create opportunities to earn more. Now, however, they seem to be biting the hand that feeds them by increasing taxes and red tape – doing anything and everything to make people work and earn less. What if there will be no money left to support them eventually?