Carlo's Think Pieces

Reflections of a Filipino in the Netherlands

Eliminate pork barrel, make legislators concentrate on lawmaking

Posted by butalidnl on 25 September 2006

Philippine congressmen and senators now enjoy  “pork barrel” benefits – which means that they have the right to designate local projects which will be implemented by national agencies, up to a certain amount. This “pork barrel” has become essential to legislators because it is important toward building patronage ties with local officials. Also, it is a source of corruption, in that the legislator gets a certain percentage of these expenditures as kickback from the national government agencies concerned.

If we decide to amend or revise the constitution, it would be good to eliminate pork barrel, for two reasons: First, pork barrel maintains and nurtures the patronage system and the culture of corruption. Second, it distracts lawmakers from their primary duty – that of making laws.  As I suggested in a previous posting, the shift to the proportional representation system of selecting legislators would do a lot towards eliminating pork barrel. However,  this is not enough.  We should have some kind of rule or law which would say that local government units should be the ones determining local projects, and that national government agencies’ projects in the country’s various areas should be apportioned among local government units on the basis of population and area.

The question that naturally arises from this idea is that local officials are as likely to be corrupt and to mismanage the projects as the national legislators. True. But at least the local officials would have been elected to take care of local issues, and that would then include national government projects in their areas.  This task properly belongs to them. And if they mismanage these projects, they are directly accountable and should be voted out during the next elections.

And of course, if legislators are elected on the proportional representation system, they would be dependent on the national vote, and no longer on the vote in a given district. They would not need pork barrel to get elected into office.  Hopefully, this would mean that they would be more able to take care of their main task of making laws for the nation as a whole.

There is also the chance that legislators would then resort to crafting the national budget in such a way as to benefit their supporters.  In the USA, congressmen have the knack of inserting pork barrel expenditures within laws, even if these don’t have any natural connection to the law.  There should be rules against this hidden pork barrel – this should be explicitly prohibited by law. 

This leaves legislators with no choice but to advance the projects or laws of national impact, on the basis of the platforms of their respective parties. It is in the nature of politics for parliamentary coalitions to be formed – temporarily or long term – with the intention of pushing for various laws. On the basis of their performance in making laws, the public could then choose the party or parties that they feel best represents their views and interests.

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