Most of us are not thieves, but we live in a materialistic society where the desirability of wealth and its trappings are constantly around us. Since earning money takes time and our efforts are not rewarded as generously as we might like, getting and spending other people’s money has tempted many, from senators on down.
That is why we build in safeguards wherever there are large amounts of money involved. Banks have guards and security systems. Stock markets, containing many investors’ funds, are carefully regulated with detailed and ongoing oversight by securities commissions. Both private and public companies are audited annually to ensure that funds are not misdirected or misused. A clean audit assures managers, owners, employees and customers that the organization is being well run.
Accountability is accepted as a given, especially when taxpayers’ funds are involved. This writer has worked on many government contracts. Every hour of work and every parking fee had to be documented.
Even though such documentation can be a pain, this is how it should be. When governments are spending your hard-earned tax dollars, they and we have every right to know that the funds are being used for their intended purposes.
When cases arise where funds may have been misused, we expect governments to take corrective action and to set systems in place to avoid any recurrence. Think of the current Senate spending review, as an example.
Like the Canadian population overall, most First Nations people are honest and doing their best to help their nations and citizens. However, a few egregious cases have arisen where some leaders have misused funds. To prevent any such abuse in the future, the previous federal government passed the First Nations Financial Transparency Act. The act increased the level of accountability for the monies they received.
This was good news for taxpayers. No longer would a few misguided leaders be able to live regally on the taxpayer’s dime while their people were neglected. No longer would all First Nations be targeted for the misdeeds of one or two.
So why is the current federal government now repealing the First Nations Financial Transparency Act? Surely, we can expect First Nations leaders to be held to the same standards as other Canadians. To expect otherwise is to treat First Nations people as incapable dependents as the Indian Act.
Knowing how taxpayers’ money is being used is a bastion of a free and democratic society. It is vital if those paying the taxes are going to do so willingly and honestly. If citizens do not know what their tax dollars are paying for, or if they fear the funds are not being put to good use, then they will seek to minimize the funds they pay to government.
One more case of other people’s money is the dues collected by unions. Here, too, the federal government is repealing legislation that would require unions to reveal to their members what they are doing with those members’ funds.
All of us who pay taxes or union dues should remind our federal government that this is our money they are handling. They are accountable to the people, and both they and we should know how our money is being used.
Troy Media columnist Roslyn Kunin is a consulting economist and speaker.