Saturday, July 20, 2013

Abolish Pork Barrel

By Chester B Cabalza

Blogger's Notes:
Commentary of an Academic (Copyright @ 2013 by Chester B Cabalza. All Rights Reserved).

President Benigno Aquino’s thrust of good governance is to tighten anti-corruption efforts in the Philippines. His moral advocacy rings a bell when he ran for office as president of Asia’s “sick man,” crippled by perennial corruption, with his famous slogan, “Kung walang kurap, walang mahirap” (if there’s no corrupt, there are no poor people). 

His Tuwid na Daan (straight path) policy is certainly making strides, although, a snail pace according to most impatient Filipinos. His pitch of a good governance equals good economy is slowly being realized when international rating agencies like Moodys, Fitch, and Standard & Poor have simultaneously upgraded the country’s investment status due to the Philippines’ impressive economic growth.

Today, the Philippines has improved a little in the corruption index from Transparency International. Furthermore, the going strong country has posted high GDP growth rates of 6.8 percent in 2012 and 7.8 percent in the first quarter of the year, making it the highest GDP growth rate in Asia, outpacing giant economies of China and Indonesia.  

No longer the “sick man” of Asia! But if we try to scrutinize Philippines’ economic history, the country has been riding on a roller coaster of economic boom and bust since post-war.

The issue now is how to sustain current economic momentum to be on top again and beyond. But how?

Simple. Corruption must be curbed and poverty must be eradicated. Corruption and poverty is a twin problem. It comes hand in hand, pulling down each other, even if one country has promising macroeconomic fundamentals.

Institutionalized corruption

According to World Bank (1997) and UNDP (1999), corruption is most commonly defined as the misuse or the abuse of public office for private gains. Economist Robert Klitgaard thinks that corruption can come in various forms and a wide array of illicit behavior, such as bribery, extortion, fraud, nepotism, graft, speed money, pilferage, theft, embezzlement, falsification of records, kickbacks, influence peddling, and campaign contributions.

In a study done by APEC in 2006, citing USAID and Anticorruption Strategy (2005), it argued that while corruption is commonly attributed to the public sector, it also exists in other aspects of governance, such as political parties, private business sector, and NGO.

Lastly, UNDP classifies corruption into two types: spontaneous and institutionalized or systemic. The second classification is referred to societies where corrupt behaviors are perennially extensive or pervasive. In these societies, corruption has become a way of life, a goal, and an outlook towards public office.

Although, spontaneous corruption must also be keenly studied since it looks at how societies observe strong ethics and morals in public service. Perhaps, this needs a separate scrutiny to further magnify Filipino ethics and morals on anti-corruption - if there’s such a thing.  

Certainly, with acceptable definitions provided by western organizations, the Philippines has been suffering a huge gap of systemic corruption. Corruption is a social cancer that hinders us to achieve greater inclusive growth and breeds poverty. This spell and bad luck should be cut and stopped!

Therefore, successful economic gains are gauged through economic measurements when every Juan or everybody, regardless of socio-economic class in the country, reap commonwealth resulting from robust GDP in the country.

Graft-tainted pork barrel

The Philippine congress has been castigated recently by the public when some senators and representatives, allegedly enriched themselves courtesy of ghost projects supposedly undertaken in the 10 billion pesos scam involving JLN Corp., a false NGO.

These greedy legislators allowed their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or in layman’s term “pork barrels” to undergo a “moro-moro” public bidding to finance their crooked projects. They choose and collude with contractor/s to get kickbacks, at least 30 percent of the project’s budget. Most of the times, projects and persons listed on the documents as beneficiaries are all fictitious. Corrupt legislators get as much as 60 percent of the pork allocation – dinadaya at pinagmumukhang tanga ang mga Pilipino! (Filipinos are deceived and are looked like stupid!).

The intent of the so-called pork barrels are supposedly clean pork and not botcha (double dead) to appropriate considerable government spending in a locality to the benefit of the legislator’s constituents. It is also intended to use government funds on local projects that are primarily used to bring more money to a specific representative’s district. In other words, the politician tries to benefit his constituents in order to maintain their support and vote.

Obviously, these pork barrels are forms of temptations in the orbit of institutionalized corruption that may possibly enrich and profit voracious politicians from government funds. Intriguingly running for office in the congress and senate can certainly be perceived as a business-making profession. Social service comes secondary based on the actual behaviors of many Filipino legislators. This only reaffirms Klitgaard’s enumeration of illicit behaviors that may result to wide systemic corruption in the country.

President Aquino and future Philippine presidents should not fatten pork barrels of politicians in the bicameral congress. If greedy legislators think that without pork barrels for their projects, their constituents will not reelect them. This is a fallacy! There are few senators who never collected their pork funds but they were reelected.

Abolish pork barrel

As a Filipino taxpayer, I am enraged by this perennial corrupt practice of our politicians. Filipinos for sure are also very angry. Politicians identified in the recent pork barrel scam were the forefront personalities who disrobed a corrupt and ousted chief justice. Where is ethics and morals of public service?

According to economist Solita Monsod, in the Philippines, while the big guns get the lion’s share of the pork, legislators don’t have to fight over it. The division is institutionalized: at least 70 million pesos worth of pork a year for a House legislator and 200 million pesos a year for a senator of the republic.

The culture of corruption continues if we maintain dolling out pork barrels to legislators. If we pull together this huge amount of government money from the pork barrel system, including of that from the president, it will definitely help us, in black and white, finance more productive and relevant projects for every Filipino.  Ideally, corruption will no longer be prevalent in the public sector.

With the upcoming state of the nation address (SONA) of president Aquino on July 22, Malacañang wants to curb systemic corruption by submitting policy recommendations to tighten up the rules on the disbursement of funds from the graft-tainted pork barrel.

If we really do want to achieve a developed status as a proud country, we must seriously fight corruption and alleviate the people from poverty. By doing so, we must scrap the pork barrel system. It’s true that when there’s no corrupt leaders, there are no poor people.  Good leadership by example. Economic power Singapore successfully did it despite its smallness as a city-state. Singapore is a living proof that there is hope for the Philippines to reform its bulok na sistema (crooked ways). Regardless of size of a country, integrity of leaders and moral ethics of people are more admirable. 

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