Taxpayers’ money will continue to be wasted even if Pork is spent honestly


There’s lot’s of argument surrounding the fate of the Priority Development Assistance or “Pork Barrel” Funds already flying about. Should legislators be allowed continued access to all those billions of pesos in taxpayers’ funds? The answer to that had already been settled under the really simple principle — that executives execute, and legislators legislate. Quite simply;

Why do legislators feel entitled to pocket money that allows them to play Santa Claus before the gawking star-struck eyes of their “constituents”? Perhaps they need their Santa Claus suit because legislative work is simply too abstract for an electorate too fixated on heroes, bread, and circuses to grasp. Without a chance to play administrative Santa Claus, legislators’ otherwise important role to play in modern democratic governance simply does not resonate with the Filipino voting public.

pork_barrel_scam_philippinesThe scale of the funds involved — billions of pesos in public funds — are not the sorts of funds you spend on little bitty pet projects conceived from the whims of vote-starved politicians. In well-governed states and business entities, the disposal of amounts like those are usually decided within the framework of a long-term strategy. If half the national budget (as some people have observed) is “discretionary” — it means that half of the national budget is routinely pissed away on tingi (small fry) stuff and not in the building of scalable works that, taken together, deliver value to the economy and to people’s lives over a period that persists beyond individual politicians’ terms.

You can’t achieve scale unless the scale of the framework you apply to spend billions of pesos is scalable as well. But if every legislator and his mistress have a “say” in the dispensation of half the national budget, all you will get is a pile of “projects” that cost a billion bucks but collectively are not even worth a tenth of that. Let us not get all confused here. Just because a billion bucks was spent does not mean a billion bucks worth of value was delivered. You can’t get a strategic outcome unless there is a sound strategy around the way you spend money. Allowing a billion pesos to be spent in a “discretionary” manner is NOT a strategy.

That then explains why Filipino taxpayers get zilch for all the trouble of having to pay taxes to a national government. Even if Pork money was spent honestly, we still wouldn’t get the full potential out of that money spent because that all-too-familiar Filipino brand of small-mindedness is applied in the way it is spent. This is something Nick Joaquin so eloquently described in his seminal piece A Heritage of Smallness

About the one big labor we can point to in our remote past are the rice terraces–and even that grandeur shrinks, on scrutiny, into numberless little separate plots into a series of layers added to previous ones, all this being the accumulation of ages of small routine efforts (like a colony of ant hills) rather than one grand labor following one grand design. We could bring in here the nursery diota about the little drops of water that make the mighty ocean, or the peso that’s not a peso if it lacks a centavo; but creative labor, alas, has sterner standards, a stricter hierarchy of values. Many little efforts, however perfect each in itself, still cannot equal one single epic creation. A galleryful of even the most charming statuettes is bound to look scant beside a Pieta or Moses by Michelangelo; and you could stack up the best short stories you can think of and still not have enough to outweigh a mountain like War and Peace.

In short, while Pork may build the equivalent of rice terraces (an agglomeration small itty-bitty pet projects), it by no means builds modern infrastructure systems that deliver ten bucks in value for every buck spent for many years.

Think about it. Pork spent honestly by itself delivers hideously small outcomes. So Pork spent dishonestly? Well now. Houston, we have a problem.

Think about how rich the Philippines could be if half its national budget is spent within the framework of a grand and scalable strategy instead of being distributed to hundreds of politicians in a discretionary manner to be spent on projects that, in all likelihood, are not synergistic with one another and, even more disturbing, could be overlapping and even fully redundant with one another.

What an ENORMOUS waste!

And to think that wholesale waste (even not including the vast chunk of it that has been stolen) has been going on for decades.

See, the issue here really is not whether Pork is being spent dishonestly or whether or not its “beneficiaries” “get what they need. In full.” You step back a bit more and regard the complete picture and you will find that porking out public funds to hundreds of oinking senators and House representatives is not a very smart way of spending money to begin with.

So then it becomes quite clearer now:

You cannot reform something that is flawed by design at its very essence.

The notion of reforming discretionary spending (whatever you name it, that sort of spending is still pork) is like recommending to an alocholic that she “reform” the way she drinks booze. It’s a proposition that is a product of thinking coming from loser mentalities.

Alcoholics will not be rehabilitated unless they stop drinking alcohol.

In the same way, public funds will not be spent wisely (i.e. optimally) unless they are spent well by design. And the scale of this design effort (i.e. underpinned by real modern strategic thinking) should be in proportion to the size of the pot of money at stake. That design scale simply cannot be achieved if billions of taxpayers’ pesos are parcelled out to these hundreds of porcine politicians who each are beholden to their own personal, partisan, and/or dynastic agendas.