Enroute to take his oath as the Republic’s 15th president, Benigno Aquino III yanked the plug on his car’s wang-wang. That silenced car sirens of politicians elsewhere.
Ampatuan convoys would “wang-wang” citizens aside when they barreled through Maguindanao’s rutted streets. They’ve stopped. “Example moves the world more than doctrine”, says author Henry Miller.
In New York, the 10% service charge, for President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s Le Cirque $20,000 dinner, dwarfed P-Noy’s $52 hot dog lunch. “Lights are stronger in the contrast,” as Charles Dickens points out.
Now, the President lunges for the pocketbook factor by national budget reforms.. The contrasts are again damming.
“The P-Noy administration inserted transparency and accountability measures into execution of the budget”, writes economist Solita Monsod. The former National Economic Development Authority secretary reviewed the General Appropriations bill.
“Implementing agencies are required to publish, on their respective websites, status of project implementation and fund use,” Monsod noted. “(That ) includes even names of beneficiaries if any. (These can) ensure that expenditures don’t get diverted or wasted.”
President Arroyo vetoed, last March, a similar transparency clause stitched into the 1.415-trillion-peso budget. The shredded safeguard would have permitted citizens to scrutinize what traditionally is haggled over behind closed doors. Malacanang would be handcuffed from juggling funds between projects — at will.
About 20 centavos of every taxpayer’s peso is cornered by crooks. Nonetheless, vetoes against measures to curb such theft stud the Arroyo record.
Congress stapled “A Right to Information” clause into the 2007 budget. The lady vetoed that one. In 2008, Congress didn’t bother with similar safeguards. Last year’s rewrite slammed into a repeat veto.
Led by then Speaker Prospero Nograles, Arroyo allies gutted the Freedom for Information bill. Under an FOI law, citizens would get access to data on a legacy of scandals.
These included: the $470-million Industrias Metalurgicas Pescarmona Sociedad Anonima (IMPSA) contract, P600 million overprice for Macapagal Boulevard’s P600 million overprice, the $328 million ZTE broadband deal to rigged contracts for World Bank funded road construction.
Arroyo “thumbs-down” spurred sleaze, Senators Francis Pangilinan and Francis Escudero cautioned. Citizen’s access to accurate and timely treasury data enhances fiscal prudence. “Transparency equals accountability.”
Pangilinan and Escudero were ignored “Every office may regulate the manner by which the public can examine or copy any public record”, Ms. Arroyo told GMA.
Look at President Arroyo’s quarter-to-midnight spending, as documented by the Commission on Audit and reported by Inquirer. It explains this disdain for transparency and accountability.
Arroyo spent P940 million for globe-trotting last year. That’s 400 percent more than the P244.6 million authorized by the budget. Millennium Development Goals, to tamp down maternal and infant death rates and keep kids in school, in contrast, remain under-funded.
“Most pork-barrels go to construction of highways that lead to nowhere or waiting sheds that wait for no one”, says former National Treasurer Leonor Briones. Only Quezon’s Rep. Erin Tañada pledged P10 million of his pork-barrel to MDG programs.
Arroyo pumped a billion over the previous year’s 75 million allocated for non-governmental groups and foundations. COA flayed dubious documentation. And she sliced a hefty P334 million slab for Pampanga’s second district. Guess who was running for Congress there.
A survey of 85 countries, by International Budget Partnership, found the Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand fell short of budget transparency criteria. Indonesia ranked better than 50 per cent in providing “significant budget information”.
“Access to budget documents remains a major challenge says the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism’s Malou Mangahas. IBP prodded governments to provide timely budget data cyberspace. Public access to pre-budget documents needs to be broadened.
Is there a sea-change ahead with P-Noy?
The Department of Interior and Local Government already posts budget, contracts and expenses. Get on the Net too, Secretary Jesse Robredo told DILG attached agencies. These include the Philippine National Police, Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, Bureau of Fire Protection, National Police Commission, Philippine Public Safety College and the Local Government Academy.
“One swallow does not make a summer.” Nobody knows this better than Secretary Robredo. His policy of opening Naga City’s financial data on the Net meet stiff opposition.
Many provinces and cities are spoiled by spending with sparse accounting. Cebu City dolled up massive foreign debts by using outdated exchange rates. COA rapped then Mayor Tomas Osmena’s knuckles.
“LGUs will avoid this (disclosure policy), if they can,” Robredo foresees. But the Government Procurement Reform Act already mandates posting of annual procurement plans, bid invitations and winners. Outlets include Internet, newspapers and bulletin boards.
Habits however die hard. Thus, many LGUs hedge. But people clamor for transparency and a Freedom of Information law. These are powerful inducements, Robredo says. As shown by wang-wang and New York hot-dogs, “people learn no other school but example.”