A two-trillion-peso budget passed by Congress every year. Billions of pesos earned by government annually through various income-generating agencies. Millions of pesos paid by the working class every payday.
Yet, when you look around, progress is not evident in the Philippines. Poverty is still prevalent. Public services and infrastructure remain subpar. The strong economy is good news only to businessmen.
The question is: where did all the money go? The revelation of a “pork barrel scam” can aid the quest for answers.
At the center of this scam is the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), commonly known as the “pork barrel”. Included in the annual national budget, it is a lump-sum allocation given to Senators and congressmen – P200 million and P70 million each, respectively – for their “priority projects” in their constituencies. This is on top of funds given to Cabinet departments and government agencies, as well as the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) given directly to local government units.
Despite rules governing the use of PDAF allocations, crooked politicians and fake non-government organizations (NGOs) have perfected a scheme to “embezzle” these public funds and funnel it into their own pockets. These shameless people made a mockery of a well-intentioned system.
Public clamor leans toward the abolition of PDAF and the prosecution of all politicians involved. The government has also come up with an ‘overhauled’ pork barrel system.
I, for one, am supporting moves to scrap the pork barrel. I agree with people saying that the executive and legislative departments should focus on running the country and crafting laws, instead of thinking of their next local projects (or their next PDAF “paycheck”, for that matter).
With that said, please allow me to present a proposal that would replace the “pork barrel” system.
In a nutshell, the current system goes like this: the PDAF allocation is given to the legislators, but they don’t actually get hold of the cash. They shouldn’t.
Instead, they submit to the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) their project proposals and the budget needed for its implementation. They also nominate implementing agencies and NGOs that would receive the funds.
This is where the scam comes into play: there are some agencies and NGOs that are in cahoots with these legislators. Upon receipt of the funds, all of them get their share of it. Little, if not none at all, goes to the actual project. Reporting the use of the funds comes only after the project is completed. To circumvent this audit, the “scam bugs” either fake the reports or collude with the auditors.
This is my proposal: remove the middlemen – in this case, the legislators – and increase the frequency of audit.
Solution #1: There will be no PDAF allocations given to Senators and congressmen anymore. Funding for all government projects will be given directly to the implementing agencies. Allocations to Cabinet departments (except Education and Public Works departments, which implement the bulk of hard projects like schools and roads, as well as the Social Welfare department) will mostly be for operational expenses.
This would prevent the “panggigipit” (withholding of approval) by legislators when approving departmental budgets, because they cannot attach themselves to local projects anymore.
Solution #2: The funds could be given directly to LGUs, thus maybe abolishing the IRA and doing away with all “middlemen” altogether. The Cabinet departments should and could only assist COA in monitoring and reviewing the implementation.
It would also entail changes in the computation of allocation, to be fair to all towns and cities of all shapes and sizes. The town’s income can also be taken into account, possibly encouraging them to be more dependent on themselves (their own revenues) instead of waiting for the national government to give them funds.
In both solutions, there will be less discretionary funds in the national budget. The remaining ones (especially in Education and Public Works) should be itemized and identified before approval by Congress.
The Commission on Audit (COA), with the help of DBM perhaps, should also be more involved in monitoring the implementation of government projects. Key performance indicators (KPI) should be met at certain stages of implementation, not just at the end.
Involve the public, too. Harness social media, tap traditional media.
Special purpose funds (like the calamity fund in case of natural disasters) should be monitored more closely and should only be given to the concerned/affected agencies.
Hefty penalties should be imposed on those who would get money for themselves. With no special treatment when proven guilty, if I may add.