The President’s announcement last week on the abolition of the current congressional pork barrel and its replacement by a new mechanism was rightfully met with cynicism by a public who knows better.
In the first place, it fell short of the rhetoric. The President is not abolishing the P25.3 billion congressional pork barrel in the national budget. He is, in fact, retaining the hopelessly corrupt system of discretionary lump sum allocations for congressmen and senators, only with a new menu and requiring an itemized list. But according to budget secretary Butch Abad, we will have to wait till 2015 to see what that’s all about.
Also, Aquino is, in fact, retaining the presidential pork estimated at P200 billion at the least, not including the various lump sum allocations tucked into the budgets of the various departments and line agencies, to be released upon the Executive’s discretion to favored legislators and local officials. This is the mother pork from which portions are given to politicians for them to use just like their PDAF.
Aquino’s itemized pork barrel system will not solve the plunder and abuse that has been going on for years. As long as congressmen, senators and the President are given sole discretion over the use of billions of public funds, nothing will change. There will always be a Napoles who will do the dirty work for the politicians and corrupt bureaucrats.
The solution is to abolish the PDAF and other vague, discretionary lump sum allocations altogether. All expenses should be itemized and therefore transparent and accountable, with as little room possible for discretion. To ensure that enough funds flow for the welfare of their districts or sectors, legislators can and should propose amendments to the General Appropriations Act (GAA) in the form of realignments or additional special provisions. But approval of these amendments should not give them any entitlement or role in how those funds are spent, except in the exercise of their oversight powers. This will end the spectacle of congressmen and senators lining up and begging for their SAROs and NCAs and treating these as negotiable instruments with suppliers and contractors.
Such a system requires that Congreess stop the practice of keeping amendments to the GAA confidential and leaving it up to the bicameral conference committee to finalize. It is an abomination that unlike all other bills, the House passes the GAA on second reading without including the proposed amendments and approving it on third while keeping the amended provisions secret. This makes the bicameral conference committee the secret chamber for horse trading and back scratching. Stop it already.
Corollarily, Congress should introduce appropriate FOI provisions in the GAA itself to ensure that all information regarding the budget and its disbursement is available to the public, including penal provisions for witholding information.
Again, we reiterate, abolition of the pork barrel system is the key reform measure to stop another fertilizer fund scam, Napoles scam or the abuses found in the COA report. Nothing less should be demanded by the people and done by the Aquino administration.#