Like thieves fighting for loot
DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - December 19, 2018 - 12:00am

A few weeks ago, President Duterte told Filipinos not to be “sad” when paying their taxes, saying “your money here during my term is safe.”

I thought the President was dreaming. How can our money be safe under his term when there is close to P200 million his former tourism secretary misspent that isn’t being returned any time soon? He isn’t even calling for the return of the funds.

If the President cannot protect our tax money from just one department, how can we believe he can do that in the major spending departments? The President is so detached to government operations other than the drug war. He shouldn’t be saying things he simply cannot do.

Now some congressmen have declared war on the budget secretary over pork funds, also called insertions, in the national budget.

Then there is the so-called road users’ tax. The Senate has adopted the House version of the bill abolishing it. But some congressmen close to the Speaker want the approved bill recalled.

Theoretically, the bill should be sent to Malacanang for the President’s signature. But the Speaker can refuse to sign the enrolled copy that is supposed to go to Malacanang.

Specially in an election year, the road users tax fund is a favorite source of funds by legislators and palace favorites. We should exert effort to assure its abolition.

Overall, we should be happy when the legislators fight over pork. We get to know how they are stealing from the treasury and making it all look like it is part of their job.

Apparently, they are fighting for pork insertions not just so they can point to constituents they got them those projects. The exchange of accusations suggest they must be getting commissions or kick backs from contractors who are awarded “their” projects.

Senator Ping Lacson uncovered a new scheme wherein legislators can avail of pork funds parked in some departments provided the original legislator gets to name the contractor. There must be new Napoleses helping legislators pocket some pork proceeds.

How much of the current P3.767-trillion national budget is lost to corruption? I was thinking that at least half is lost to corruption, or otherwise wasted through inefficiency. The bureaucrats are very creative in devising means of using public funds in a way that does not benefit public good.

 If we go by the 50 percent estimate, that’s a cool P1.8 trillion of our taxes wasted one way or another. We don’t need TRAIN 1,2,3,4 or more if only we are able to seriously cut this drain on national funds.

If this estimate is too high, I want to hear from someone who can provide a more accurate one. My back of the envelope computations even suggest a higher level. Even sections of the budget subject to automatic appropriation like debt servicing and IRA have some element of corruption worked into them.

Corruption is a pernicious problem we must work harder to put under control.

The 2017 Corruption Perceptions Index reported by Transparency International listed the Philippines as number 111 out of 175 countries. In other words, we are pretty corrupt. Through the years, our country’s Corruption Rank averaged 92.91 from 1995 until 2017, reaching an all time high of 141 in 2008 and a record low of 36 in 1995.

Why should we all fight corruption? Simply, because it is at the root of our problems.

A website, business-anti-corruption.com, pointed out that “high corruption levels severely restrict the efficiency of businesses operating in the Philippines.

“Extensive bribery within the public administration and vague and complex laws make foreign companies vulnerable to extortion and manipulation by public officials.

“Favoritism and undue influence are widespread in the courts, leading to time-consuming and unfair dispute resolution, and to an uncertain business environment.”

The section on public procurement describes the situation we are familiar with:

“There is a very high risk of corruption in the public procurement sector which is subject to rampant corruption, irregularities, and inconsistent implementation of legislation.

“Likewise, more than a fifth of businesses report they expect to give gifts in order to win a government contract. Two in five companies indicate that most companies in their sector give bribes in order to win contracts.

“Diversion of public funds, as well as favoritism in the decisions of public officials, is very common…  Local-level public procurement lacks transparency, fostering a culture of corruption through the misuse of the pork barrel system; which are funds for discretionary use by representatives for projects in their respective districts.”

The current headlines about congressmen denouncing the budget secretary is inadvertently bringing out in the open the foul odor of corruption going on for years.

The cash budgeting approach the budget secretary wants to introduce will somehow limit the ability of legislators to park funds for spending in future years.

But still, this administration like past ones, is still involved in some kind of pork barrel budgeting to benefit their allies and get the support of others. If the President is serious about fighting corruption, he should just say NO MORE PORK period.

The legislators will make it difficult for the administration to get what it needs. There are, however, enough powers that a determined president can use to keep government running pork free. Perhaps, this will minimize corruption overall.

President Duterte can show he is serious in fighting corruption by instructing his budget secretary to go on a real pork free budgetary diet. It will be worth the fight with Congress. If there is a President who can do this, it is Duterte.

Otherwise, this sad spectacle that looks like thieves fighting for their share of the loot will go on… and so will stealing at least half the national budget. There is no future in that for the Filipino people.

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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