For an administration that champions transparency, this legislative measure is worth supporting. A bill seeking to define and regulate lobbying in Congress, Malacañang and other government offices has been filed by Marikina Rep. Marcelino Teodoro. House Bill 1199 is patterned after similar laws and rules in the United States, where lobby groups are registered and their activities regulated.
In this country, lobbying is as old as Congress, but the activity has taken on an unsavory connotation. Payoffs and other under-the-table deals have come to be associated with lobbying, with no limits on the amount that might be paid in exchange for the passage of a legislative measure.
There is no guarantee that a law regulating lobbying activities would put an end to corruption in the legislative process and related government transactions. But with a law in place, violators of transparency rules can be penalized. Under House Bill 1199, violators face a fine of at least P30,000, imprisonment of up to six months, and a three-year suspension of the lobby group’s registration.
The proposed law will require special interest groups to register their lobbying activities with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Lobbying is defined as any oral or written communication with a public official, which is intended to influence the crafting of a legislative proposal by the government or any member of Congress.
In several countries, a limit is set on the value of gifts that public officials can receive from people doing business with their agencies. Lobbyists are banned from treating public officials to pricey meals. While such activities are hard to monitor, those caught breaking the law – both the lobbyist and public official – can be penalized.
Citizens have a right to lobby their legislators to pass certain laws. But the process must be transparent and must not provide opportunities for corruption. Massive slush funds have built family fortunes in Congress, and House Bill 1199 might have as much chance of passage as proposals to regulate campaign finance and discourage political dynasties. But the administration that won on a platform of transparency and reforms might be able to make a difference.