President PNoy Aquino said that he supports Senator Escudero’s Senate Bill 2187 which prohibits the naming of government projects after officials. And he went on to declare that he does not want to have any project named after him. This is a good sign.
Actually, Escudero’s bill is only the latest Senate attempt at curbing this practice. In 2004, Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago proposed Senate Bill 1967, which will penalizes the attaching of the name or image of any public official to a sign announcing a proposed or ongoing public works project. It was not passed by the 13th Congress, so Santiago reintroduced it in 2007, in the 14th Congress, and it still didn’t pass.
Santiago’s SB 1967 bill penalizes officials who do attach their name or image to a project, to 6 months to 1 year in prison, and to permanent disqualification from running for public office. Escudero’s SB 2187 penalizes the offenders with 1 year imprisonment and a fine from Php100,000 to Php1,000,000.
The practice of claiming government projects as “theirs” by government officials is not only irritating, it is also a waste of money. And, more importantly, it is a form of corruption. After all, these officials use public funds and projects for personal gain. It is a form of free advertisement for themselves, as a sort of advanced election campaign. Even if no additional funds are involved (i.e. the sign would have been put up anyway), it is still corruption. And, if it involves additional expense for the government, it becomes even worse.
Congressmen seem to need to show off where their pork barrel allotments go to. Let them just show them in their websites (or the websites of the Dept of Local Government, or that of Congress), where they could publish what projects got funded by their pork barrel funds. This would have the additional advantage of increasing transparency in the allocation of pork barrel.
Just like the anti “Wang Wang” drive of the government, a ban on claiming government projects will go a long way towards changing the general atmosphere that leads to corruption. It will be a small, but quite visible (or should we say, “invisible”) step in the right direction.
Let us go to the provisions such a law should have. In the first place, I think the law should specify by the claim ban. Billboards explaining the project is one way, but there are others e.g. words painted on a waiting shed, or the name of the project is similar to the politician’s name, or words printed or attached to a label of a product (e.g. school bags given to children). The ban should cover all these.
Then, the punishment for violating the ban should not include imprisonment. I think that would be too harsh, and may have a counter-productive effect, i.e. people would not complain of violations, because they think that imprisonment is too harsh. The punishment should include: a big fine, suspension from office for 6 months to a year for the first offense, and expulsion from office plus a permanent prohibition from public office for the second offense. I think this should be fair enough to be upheld.
And the government should also allot money to “erase” all claims on projects by government officials. Waiting sheds may need to be painted over, projects may need to be renamed, etc.
I think President PNoy should include this bill among the priority bills that he will push Congress to pass. Then, passing it through Congress becomes a possibility. Otherwise, if he doesn’t signify it as priority, it will not pass; since many lawmakers like to claim government projects. And, if the president doesn’t think it should go through as a bill, he could adopt it as an Executive Order, which although faster, would also be less effective than a law.