Poll fraud, dynasties to fade with pork barrel abolition

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc - The Philippine Star

Watch it. That shifty Venezuelan company Smartmatic recently bought bid documents — for a hefty P1 million — for the Land Transport Office’s database contract. Yet it did not submit a bid. Soon afterwards the LTO disqualified all the participants for various reasons, mostlys flimsy, then declared a failure of the bidding.

This follows closely how Smartmatic has been bagging multimillion-peso contracts at the Comelec.

Example: Smartmatic did not join the two Comelec biddings to supply 82,200 compact-flash cards for the voting machines of May 2013. Supposedly the poll body’s ceiling price was unprofitably too low. In both biddings the country’s biggest CF card importer-distributor was rejected. One pretext was that the Filipino logistically and financially was incapable of such a huge delivery. Yet that firm had supplied most of the 78,600 CF cards within four days of the 2010 election, to replace Smartmatic’s contaminated cards. Another excuse was that the Filipino’s cards were hard to detach from the voting machines — which actually was a security safeguard against potential tampering. The firm twice gave the lowest bid. Still the Comelec declared the biddings “failed,” paving the way for a negotiated contract with “uninterested” Smartmatic. Amount: P45.2 million — P12 million more than the Filipino’s price.

Other Smartmatic negotiated deals with the Comelec were for the billion-peso warehousing, testing, dusting, tagging, and what-have-you of the voting machines. Also, for setting up the Comelec’s technical support call center, precinct count “transparency server” (that never finished the job), and electronic transmission of results (which failed). Those contracts were on top of its P9-billion lease-sale of the voting machines, showing Smartmatic to be a truly favored company.

Will the LTO now hold a second bidding that is designed to again fail? Will it then strike a deal with Smartmatic? Stay tuned.

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All government innovations aim to improve services and foil graft. Invariably they fail.

The fertilizer and swine dispersal to augment farmers’ incomes eventually became ghost deliveries. Agricultural competitiveness via funding of ice plants or community threshers turned into behest loans. Discount sales of tax credit certificates gave way to counterfeiting. Inviting NGOs as public bidding watchdogs only spread the corruption. Feeding programs soon were infected with politicking. Massive textbook printing succumbed to favoritism of authors and toleration of errors. Even election automation, for rapid proclamation of hidden vote tallies, ended up with more crooked subcontracts.

The congressional pork barrel is no different. It began as a noble way to equalize priority funding in all congressional districts, say, for libraries, waterworks, computerization. Congressmen in big cities could spend theirs for traffic decongestion, anti-pollution, and urban woes; those in the countryside, for irrigation or cattle breeding or foot bridges.

Over the years the pork barrel deteriorated into contrivances for kickbacks. Its name has been changed over and over. New rules were set to clean up the process. Pork funds no longer are released by the budget department directly to congressmen, but to specialized agencies, depending on the nature of the project.

Still, the old scams persist. Congressmen assign the projects to favored constructors and suppliers. The latter in turn make collusive NGOs certify the works and deliveries. The agencies pay the contractors, who then hand the congressmen their 20-percent commissions.

Operators like Janet Lim Napoles have streamlined the pork barrel corruption. They set up false NGOs to solicit false projects based on real agency priorities. (Using her personal driver, family cook, and housemaid as NGO presidents, Napoles is able to work with ease.) They oversee the fund transfers, ensuring that check signers and auditors get their shares. They also serve as middlemen between agencies and congressmen, contractors and beneficiary-NGOs.

From the P70-million annual pork, a congressman gets P14 million (20%), fund processors P7 million (10%), contractors P7 million (10%), the operators P7 million (10%), Only P35 million (50%) is left for the project itself. No wonder the roads built and goods delivered are substandard.

Of the P25-billion annual congressional pork, the vultures divvy up half. That’s why the archipelago lacks basic infrastructures like ports, gadgets like rain gauges, and services like post-disaster psychotherapy.

Even senators now have pork barrels although they are elected at large so have no direct constituencies. At P200 million a year, it is nearly thrice as much as the congressman’s P70 million. Given that a senator sits for six years, compared to a congressman’s three, the total pork per term is P1.2 billion.

The size and very existence of the pork betrays its true purpose. It’s to make the lawmaker recover investments incurred in elections, and to entrench his patronage politics.

Yet the congressional pork is unnecessary. Lawmakers have no business implementing government projects. That’s the job of the executive branch, through a professional, nonpartisan bureaucracy.

Lawmakers can identify the projects but not have anything to do with execution. There are many ways to do it: through the Development Budget Coordinating Committee, the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council, and Congress’ five month-long budget hearings from August to December. Political parties and coalitions can also be conduits for project prioritizing.

Without pork barrels, lawmakers would have no more need to employ guns, goons, and gold to win elections. They will have no reason to alternate with spouses, parents, children, and siblings in dynastic political rule. In short, the country can have better leaders.

Conversely, pork is the source of all evil. And lawmakers must know how man since time immemorial treats evil: he shuns it.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8-10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).

Gotcha archives on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jarius-Bondoc/1376602159218459, or The STAR website http://www.philstar.com/author/Jarius%20Bondoc/GOTCHA

E-mail: jariusbondoc@gmail.com


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