Simply for the Pork-A A +A
Monday, August 26, 2013
WHEN he gave that unexpected press conference last Saturday, President Noynoy Aquino tried to play “King Solomon” to two sets of conflicting allies, the Filipino people and the elected in Congress. To the people he announced his decision to abolish the Poverty Development Assistant Fund (PDAF), but to the legislators he continued to give the option to choose what government projects to implement, although under the stricter line-item budgeting system which, unlike PDAF-funded projects, required the project to be specified, included and approved in the national budget.
Well and good. I am personally open to that suggestion. The defect in the PDAF was simply that our congressmen and senators were given practically blanket authority and discretion on how and where to spend their pork barrel, and to whom to bestow that blessing upon. My understanding is that under the line-item budgeting system, they will first have to recommend their specific projects during the budget deliberations, have them reviewed by the congressional body and incorporated into the national budget. Bidding for the project implementation will be via the internet and every aspect of the process is supposed to be available to anyone interested to look at them, on-line. At least that is what P-Noy said he wants to happen.
What the President did not mention however is that the much bigger pork barrel allocation that the senators and congressmen get is not in the PDAF. It is in the President’s own discretionary fund portions of which he, and past presidents, give to the lawmakers for implementation. Under our system of checks and balances Congress is vested by the Constitution with the “power of the purse”; which means it is the keeper of the money of government and the one who determines how to apportion and allocate it.
The President, on the other hand, is the one tasked to spend it and to carry out the programs and projects funded by it. This way, the one who keeps the money cannot spend it, and the one to whom the spending authority is vested can only spend it as directed by the one holding the money. This is how the check-and-balance principle is generally supposed to work.
The evil of the pork barrel is that it short-circuits this check and balance. When the President hands over a part of his discretionary fund (intended by Congress to give him a free hand to handle the emergency needs of the nation not anticipated by the national budget), in effect the ones holding the purse now acquires the discretion on how and where to spend it. Since the presidential discretionary fund is less subject to the strict auditing procedures required of other items in the national budget, it also gives the congressman or the senator allocating and spending it the tempting prospect of diverting or slicing off portions for other-than-its-intended purposes.
The common justification given for the retention of the pork barrel is that it allows our legislators, who are supposed to be in closer touch with the people than the President, the opportunity to address immediate needs which P-Noy, in his lofty position, may not be capable of noticing. The fallacy of this argument is apparent when one considers that the mayors and governors, who belong to the same executive branch of government as the President, are even closer to the ground and more in touch with the masses than the congressmen and senators. If anyone ought to be vested with the presidential discretionary fund, they should get it, not the members of Congress.
If the pork barrel is totally scrapped, the PDAF and the presidential type, I can bet you a large percentage of our congressmen and senators will not run for re-election. We will then find out who among them are really interested in legislating for us, and who are there simply for the pork of it.
Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on August 26, 2013.