Opinion: Upcoming elections: deluge of empty promises

POSTED: 06/29/14 4:42 PM

Promises, promises

Right, elections are coming and nobody will be able to escape the deluge of empty promises political parties are going to make. Voters, who want to keep their sanity during this siege of political verbal terrorism, ought to keep their eyes on the ball – or, to put it accurately, on the money.

There is in this respect really no difference between one party and the next one. They are all basically doing the same: making promises that make them attractive to the electorate, knowing darn well that they do not have to keep their word.

So if a party promises to abolish, say, the profit tax, voters should start thinking – beyond, oh, that’s nice! – How said party is going to pay for that promise. This year, the treasury is scheduled to collect 24.2 million guilders in profit tax. If that money is no longer coming in, there is a hole in the budget.

That could mean two things: the government has to take this money away from other posts in its budget. Or it does not do this, and then the government’s services to its citizens will go down for the value of the money that this proposal is biting out of the budget.

With the tight budget the government has to work with, and the problems it has to present a credible balanced budget to the satisfaction of the financial supervisor Cft, it is easy to understand for voters that the short-term gains from such a lofty and lightly made promise will pale compared to the long-term disadvantages.

In other words: giving a vote to a party that makes empty promises is akin to shooting oneself in the foot. Those who feel like this is a good idea – by all means, go ahead.

We repeat here what we have written several times before: political initiatives need the backing of a solid financial plan. It is maybe a very good idea to abolish the profit tax – we have no opinion about this right now – but one cannot entice the electorate with this carrot without saying where the money is coming from, or which consequences such a measure will have for the budget and by extension, for the government’s services to the citizenry.

It is a pity that the rules for the registration and financing of political parties do not contain a provision for a financial chapter. If that provision were there, parties would have not only have to present their manifesto, but also their own budget – one that shows how they are going to pay for the promises they make in their manifesto without ruining the country’s finances.

The General Audit Chamber could be charged with the task to check whether the numbers in the financial chapter of the manifestos add up. If they don’t, the chamber should make this public, giving the party the option to adjust its plans and the financial picture they have presented.

Useless to say, this will not happen before the August 29 elections. But it is something to think about. Parties with a bit more than an average sense of responsibility could pick up.

There is no need for complicated legislation, because parties could add a financial chapter voluntarily. This way they would distinguish themselves from other parties that don’t do this.

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