Sunday, October 30, 2011

Public Servant

Hat tip and credit: Schamblers

In Portugal we call a public servant, an employee of the public service, "funcionário público":  public employee.

They used to be known as public servants, servidores públicos.  In 1935 there were 25000, in 1969 there were 165000 and today we have around 730000 (or less than 600000 depending on how you count - probably nobody knows the real number if you add consultants, members of "PPP"s, employees in public companies etc.).

This number is actually not large compared to countries in Northern Europe.  Less than 15% of the working population.  However the sector is inefficient and expensive and must be reduced.

I would like them to be called public servants in Portugal again.  "Servidores Públicos" or even "Serventes Públicos".  I think the name and attitude matters.

A public servant should be a person of high integrity that has sworn to uphold the republic and the constitution.  More often than not a public servant will have access to confidential information and have large powers over other citizens.  A public servant must be held to higher moral standards than other citizens.  Corruption is much more serious than stealing from say a bank.  On the other hand, public servants must be given special powers and protections to fulfill their functions.

A public servant should always treat a citizen with the out most respect and helpfulness while fulfilling his requirements.

I believe it would be to the advantage of all citizens and the country alike, that public servants no longer paid income tax.  First of all it makes no sense the state puts money in one pocket just to remove it from the other.  Secondly, it would enhance and demonstrate the statute of public servant.  Finally, it would also demonstrate the difference between taxpayers (*) paying for the public service and people working for the public service.

I suggest a revision of the statutes of a public servant in Portugal.   Here is rather nice one from Lebanon of all places to use for inspiration.

A couple of incidents from real life in Portugal:
Once at the ATM in the local shopping center the line was very long indeed.  With patience, everybody awaiting their turn - demonstrating the impeccable Portuguese politeness when in a line - people were surprised to see a male individual (not a gentleman for sure) enter the front of the line and start using the ATM.  The people in the line were aghast.  One gentleman complained in particular.  The cheating individual turned around, claimed he was a judge and informed he as a judge was not supposed to wait in lines.  Any more trouble and he would call the police and have people arrested for interfering with a judge.

Ministers in Portugal always travel with police protection, limousine in the middle and police front and back. The police will hold all other traffic back, so the minister can pass.  It is quite a nuisance in heavy traffic and the noise of the police sirens is astounding.

The public servant, both the minister and the judge, should have no privileges beyond insuring their safety.  If anything they should be the ones to hold back for the taxpayers while the taxpayer earns money to pay their salaries.   No wonder Portuguese ministers speak so favorably of public transports and the quality of the road network.  They are never stuck in traffic.  Maybe a little taste of the real world would give them some understanding?

(*) Even when not paying income tax, public servants would still pay a number of taxes. It is simply and unfortunately much too complicated to avoid that, due to very large number of additional taxes in existence.

It has gotten to the point where taxpayers are unable to calculate how much they actually pay in tax.
Don't believe me? Take a taxi ride. Then let me know how much of the fare was tax... You should of course include part of the taxi drivers income tax (we presume he owns the taxi), vehicle tax, vehicle inspection fee, the VAT, the taxi license, the tax on the insurance, the road tax, the toll tax, the tax on fuel and ad nauseum. Because if it were not for all these taxes and fees - your fare would in all probability be that much lower.

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