Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Pork Barrel, Philippine Politics and the Economy

By Adrian M. Tamayo

Pork barrel defined

Pork barrel has its origin in the American history. Prior to the civil war, the slaves in the Southern part of America were traditionally provided salted pork as a gift to enjoy on holiday. The slaves would run into frantic for the barrel . Kawanaka cited Evans that the onrush of the legislators to get a subsidy was evocative of the stampede of the slave of the pre American Civil war. Pork barrel formally defined as the appropriations of public funds for projects that do not serve the interests of any large portion of the country’s citizenry but are nevertheless vigorous promoted by a small group of legislators because they will pump outside taxpayers’ money and resources into the local districts these legislators represent ; an effective legislation and use of pork barrel results into the legislator being re-elected. As defined by a Civil Society group in the Philippines, PDAF Watch, “pork barrel funds are those allocated to politicians such as congresspersons and senators, to be used, based on their decision, to fund programs or projects in their districts ”.

Keeping the pork thin or thick?

In a position paper of Nograles and Lagman to decry the scrapping of PDAF , it was brought into the fore the origin of the pork barrel and how was it used in the Philippine fiscal activity. It described the American colonial accent with the keeping of central leadership of the ruling party with the pork barrel as spoiling incentives for the legislators. Towing the line would mean an increased access to the fund without contest of use or misuse during the martial law era. This offensive taking of the government fund by the legislators resulted into a mechanism after the famous EDSA of the 8th Congress that will ensure fund will make the “unequal equal” by setting up parameters, equal apportionments, built-in accountability and transparency (Nograles and Lagman). However, the current system provided a system where funds are included in the general appropriations act (GAA) but as an independent item without mention of definite project. Also, the GAA includes items where each legislator is given a definite monetary value which is reflective of the projects that can be made out from the amount. Kawanaka described the system vividly in lieu of the appropriation and the legislators’ control of the fund as:

“….legislators have been given items, namely the Priority Development Fund Assistance Program (PDAF) and the budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways. While an appropriation act is prepared in congress, no specific projects need be listed, since these lump – sum allocations. A legislator is given a free-hand to identify her pet projects, programs within budget, and requests the concerned departments to implement them, after a general appropriation act has been promulgated”.

The above statement signifies the space accorded to the legislator to determine the socially acceptable project in order to indicate “bringing the pork” to the level of the constituents as demands are effectively meet by the legislators. Such provision of the public good will be in competition with the executive branch with its implementing agency working along the line of a systematic and sustainable development.

As it was noxiously termed, pork barrel was changed into an innocuous Countrywide Development Fund in 1990 where which the intention is to fast-track development. However, it evolved itself in 2000 into an even milder which up to present holds it name, the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) .

The Philippine Constitution describes the separation of the powers between the Legislative and the Executive departments with the former having the “power of the purse” and appropriation while the latter has the power to implement or veto the Congress’ resolution. With the Executive department directly engaged in the operation of the government being apprised by the bureaucratic office of every agency down –the-line – up, the Executive holds a better vantage than the Legislative department on the priority needs of the whole nation, thus information of the important projects, programs which can significantly re-structure the economic status of the poorest of the poor. This will therefore place the Legislative department in a comparable insufficient situation for project or program implementation. But with the intention of the separation of powers, the check-and-balance mechanism will indicate the need for the later to determine the priority needs of the whole nation thus allocation of fund, the monitoring and monitoring of the same being the representative of the general public.

Such mechanism will ensure that the resource allocation is a constitutional public spending and ‘taking out of the purse’ mean thickening of the pork of the legislators.

Types of Pork barrel

Kawanaka (2007) described two types of pork barrel. The first type refers to the pork-barrel that focuses on the discretion of the national leaders. This emphasizes the “tow the line” principle as it highlights the control of the leader over the members of the legislative. The second looks at the characteristics of the legislators. This means that the legislators’ stay in congress, position in the legislative branch, and expertise are factors that settle distribution of the fund.

The first type tells that the legislators who are members of the ruling party are given share of the government share in abundance as a mode of tapping the shoulder for supporting the priority programs, initiatives and development projects of the Executive department. The second type will stress the discriminating aspect of seniority, positions in the committee to distribute the fund. The Speaker of the House, the House leaders will have a greater piece of the pork.

The Pork barrel and its many influences

In Philippine politics, the manifest of legislated pork barrel includes construction of waiting shed, single school room construction/re-painting of schoolrooms , road pavement, local health spending, training centers, purchase of chairs,tables, computers, scholarships, construction of overpass, livelihood programs and many other geographic-specific projects which would benefit a constituency – residents of the political districts.

Of equally interesting case is the pork barrel’s legislation practices of the senators who are elected nationally. In order to avail of the rent-seeking benefits, these politicians will spend on a specifically –defined geographic district that can assure of high voter’s turn-out. Normally, these are political districts found in highly – urbanized cities/provinces with dense population catering into immediate remedies done through legislative spending. Pork – barrel is the misuse of the people’s money for the purpose of gaining political advantage over a location-oriented accruing of benefits using a national budget.

The pork – barrel legislation will cut expected efficiency of public finance. Rossi and Inman (1998) described pork barrel as having a ‘distributive’ nature of public goods citing Lowi with benefits concentrated within an identifiable constituent group using general taxation of government borrowing . This would mean, the whole society will pay for the project which full benefit accruing to a small portion of the public. Allowing the legislators to fund the local projects using a nationally – legislated resource using the national governments revenue will further thin out the slices of the pie thus pressing the depressing conditions of the not politically aligned constituency even more poor.

The Rossi and Inman paper theorized that if the demands of the constituents were echoed by the elected representatives, and that, it leaves no spillover effects to non-constituents will result into inefficiency of public spending on the distributive goods, with the elected officials crying for an increased budget for the constituency’s needs while the constituents share of paying in the form of tax declines. This is attributable to the non-zero elasticity of demand. This will lead into “Harberger triangle ” which is an indication of the problematic political economy, and a consequent reduction in the benefit of the public spending.

The planned expenditure of the government will be hampered as a result of the PDAF as the government’s limited resources were used to fund locally-beneficial programs, leaving national agencies deficit of budget of its carefully planned spending using the most appropriate formula to address systematic perils of the society like hunger, criminality and the chronic poverty and hunger. Also, it is hard to dissociate the impressions of corruption in the dealings of infrastructure projects which leads into usurping the DPWH with its notorious tag as the most corrupt agency, scholarship programs with DEPED officials’ dirty hands and many other agencies. Proven or not, the impressions of the public remained glaringly suspicious.

As earlier stated, the fund is a lump-sum allocation of the appropriations act, but with the full discretion of the legislator on the amount, is an inviting scene for corruption. Parreno(1998) described in a report for the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism on the rates that a Congressman will be receiving as a cuts, kickbacks, commissions, rebates and discounts are robbery done on the very poor. The report mentioned that the contractors have to provide 30-50% discount or rebates to a legislator for granting the contract. This will lead into reducing by 20% the cement on a road project making it substandard – the poor thus paying the high cost.

On the one hand, the PDAF is a representation of an effective leadership of a people’s representative. If the districts’ needs for bridges, roads, bridges are meet due to the PDAF or initiative of the Congressman. If the social benefit is higher on the benefit of congressional project such as providing scholarship to students for training or formal education belonging to a poor family but wanted to learn, the social and personal benefit will be higher than the social cost as these individuals will contribute productively in the society – thus, reducing the risk of potential criminals and society’s menace.

Also, the PDAF brings the government into the small units in the community who were away from the short but caring arms of the State. The PDAF supports the small important projects that will directly enjoyed by the district constituents hence, providing an opportunity for democratic and productive practices towards economic development.

In Conclusion

The Pork barrel, PDAF or CDF in any of its moniker has its Janus face indicating its sullen past and its likely future.

1. It had perennially showed that it will undermine the whole framework of the organization, fund and budget, and operation in favor to a small and geographically determined beneficiary.
2. When the benefit is large and the obligation of the constituents is small, there is the tendency to demand for an increasing pork value. Pork barrel promotes inefficiency of public spending resulting to a loss in the welfare of the greater number of people, that is the marginal national benefit (benefit of carrying the national plan) against marginal local benefit (political district project).
3. Looking at pork barrel as a reward for support of the ruling party’s priority agenda, of the attribute of the legislator may result to corrupt the officials of its slightest padding of budget into the most horrendous misuse of public funds.
4. PDAF projects effectively and efficiently addresses the needs of the “political constituents” as opposed to the national agenda.
5. The misuse of the fund will be reduced when the mechanism of transparency and accountability will be put in place and appropriately implemented.
6. Pork barrel remained an American model which cannot be transplanted into the political system of the Philippines as this will only cause the “on-rush” of the politicians to get a share of the pork leaving the poor Juan crumbs for his family, and the generations to come beholden to the vicious cycle of poor getting poorer and the politicians getting richer.