Skip to main content

Power and Danger of Discretion: PDAF in the Local Context

Image courtesy of Inquirer.
 http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/files/2013/07/cartoon_Jul19.jpg.

“One noticeable feature of modern legal systems is the extent to which power is conferred upon government officials and agencies to be exercised at their discretion, according to policy considerations, rather than according to precise legal standards.”  (Galligan, 1990)

The past month, after the Priority Development Assistance Fund scandal surfaced in Philippine political debate, considerable media space has been allotted to discuss the value, or conversely and more strongly, the evil of the PDAF.  A congressional inquiry is currently being conducted, purportedly in aid of legislation that oftentimes seemed like some person’s show.  A whistleblower seemed to enjoy the media attention with a kind of sinister smile, sounding like saying “come on; do not act as if you do not know this.” A senator accused of plunder chastised himself by saying nothing else is good in this government and that should be enough evidence to not point fingers at them. The PDAF events, occurring at different locations – in court, in the legislative chambers, in the streets, in the minds of people – seem like a Shakespearian comedy, that watching, or living within the plot of misfortune, one cannot help but burst into a dry laugh.

Several of our top academics and intellectuals lend very insightful comments to this spectacle. A scholar I came to know at one point in one of my out-of-country conference trips, and one of those I consider very politically astute but pragmatically optimist at the same time, Ronald Mendoza, argued that PDAF kills our democracy.  He said that “Pork fuels our democracy’s vicious cycle—of poor people who depend on it for help, and politicians who ingratiate themselves to less informed voters and strengthen their stranglehold on power by disbursing it with little accountability.”  Randy David, on the other hand, said that “pork is never good in a political system dominated by insatiable swines”.  Solita Monsod analysing the statements of P-noy’s statements argued that  “ P-Noy actually starts by affirming that “there is nothing intrinsically wrong with this policy,” and that enabling our representatives to identify projects for their communities that otherwise were not affordable was a “worthy goal.”

In the background of these arguments is a word that is highly objectionable, not only in politics, but in business as well - DISCRETION.  Giving one person with a large responsibility too much discretion is giving him so much power.  In the literature on internal control, it is argued that you have to segregate duties in the use and administration of funds. When I was teaching auditing at Holy Name University, I used the mnemonic word CARE, to emphasize how CARE of business funds should be exercised, and this applies more importantly to public funds as well. In an ideal scenario, no one person or entity should be given the power to be the Custodian of resources, to Authorise its use, to Record the transactions involving its utilisation, and to Execute the utilisation of resources all at the same time (though later on, they removed Execution in the standards, I still argue for its inclusion as part of the four incompatible functions).  In the case of PDAF, a merger of around two incompatible functions became deadly – legislators Authorise the budget, and later has the authority to how to Execute it. When not scrutinize, and when hidden behind names of bogus projects and self-commissioned non-government organizations, he can spend public funds on himself.

The PDAF case is not only about a violation of internal control policies (or an override of it). It is also a classic case of what Galligan highlighted as a government where leaders exercise power at their discretion.  It is also a case of breach of legislative powers on executive functions, though how nicely its political language is framed to avoid this description.  One cannot argue that PDAF is consequentially good, because it is inherently wrong.

So while activists are barking at national legislators to give up their pork, I was pre-occupied with the question whether the same kind of discretion is given to local legislators.

In the last couple of months, I reviewed, as part of my research work, the municipal and provincial budgets of around 20 local government units across the country.  There are a few budget account titles that caught my attention and these were normally labelled with fancy names like the ones I enumerate below:

  • Assistance to barangays
  • Assistance to non-government organizations
  • Assistance to municipalities
  • Assistance to cooperatives
  • Donations


I looked at the process of how these were used. Apparently, this general-sounding budget figure is ‘allocated’ to provincial or municipal legislators, who request the amount in the same way that senators and congressmen do.  It is like your PDAF, in its more down-scaled version, and in the context of the local, but nevertheless advances the same clientelistic political effect of the national pork, and can also be a subject of abuse.

So I would like to call local activists to look at the local budgets.  Look for terms (a) to (e) above. Ask government officials how this is disbursed.  If you are concerned of issues in the national level, you should also be asking questions on issues closer to home.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

10 Lessons from Loay, Bohol on How Local Government Leaders Should Fight Decisively Against the COVID – 19 Pandemic

“Some people ask me why I was very quick to deliver social assistance to people during this crisis. It’s simple. I have experienced myself having nothing. I can easily empathize with what people are experiencing on the ground.”
     - Atty.  Hilario “Lahar’ Ayuban              Mayor, Loay, Bohol

The COVID-19 crisis that plagues the world is impacting adversely every sector and every individual globally. In the Philippines, the rate of infection has been steadily increasing, partly brought about by the availability of test kits, and the lack of compliance with strict preventive measures. The ability of the country to combat and survive this pandemic is put to the test.  Despite the missteps on the part of the national government, local government officials all over the country have been facing the crisis head-on, with some local chief executives finding creative ways to stem the spread of the virus through preventive measures while at the same time temper the economic impacts on the li…

4 Reasons Why Following Bishop Abet on FB is a Good Thing To Do in this Time of Crisis

I met Bishop Abet Uy for the first time online.
Some three years ago, at the suggestion of a good friend of mine, Fr. Harold Anthony Parilla, I sent Bishop Abet a direct message via FB messenger. He replied, within a day or two and told me how I could proceed with something I wanted to do.I did as was instructed, and some few weeks later, he sent me, via messenger again, a thank-you note.
Such tech-savviness impressed me, especially for a prelate his age. I was not surprised that some weeks later, I learned that the Bishop was using social media to spread God’s message, in very accessible terms. I also personally witnessed events he presided where online footprint was created almost in real-time (or at least a few hours after the event concluded), making us aware of where he was, what he was doing in building God’s Kingdom here on earth.
Currently, his various Facebook accounts have thousands of followers (Teba Yu has 11,744 followers, Abet Uy has 63,337, while the Bishop Abet page h…

5 Ways to Build a Resilient and Sustainable Business: Lessons from Balai Cacao

The COVID 19 pandemic has significantly changed the way we live.For more than two months now, most of us, by force of governmental regulation, have stayed at home, avoided public and even social gatherings, set aside various recreation activities, and abstained from going to religious services.  These new patterns of behaviour, regardless of the involuntariness of its nature, have altered not only how we think and do things; they also significantly altered the way we produce and consume things.Businesses are severely affected by this pandemic.Mall sales had gone down, not only because they were closed for a while, but also because many people can no longer go there, including children and the elderly, (and those without quarantine passes) even when lockdown rules were relaxed. When religious celebrations were halted, sales for flowers and candles went low.When borders were locked, revenues of car rental companies, tour guides, and tourism-related establishments plummeted to nothing.Bu…