Corporate executives, key positions in government (e.g. mayors), even salespeople are allotted representation expenses. Breakfast meetings with important clients or constituents? Charge it on the representation account. If the account can be set up for salespeople, then the government could, too. But while it could, should it? For me, then, the debate is not about whether government can because it can but rather whether government should. In other words, doing what is right.
To demonstrate: In my past employ, the new head of office then deigned to do away with providing himself and the members of the Management Team lunch during meetings. It isn’t right, he explained, for us to incur sizeable lunch bills on the company knowing that in the communities where we are there are many children who don’t eat. He’d rather that the amount allotted for food during their meetings are added to project funds. And so, these senior executives lunched out on their own money. What’s, say, PHP150 once or twice a month to their monthly take home, right? Initially, his fellows didn’t take it well but later on they learned to see its wisdom.
The President is therefore correct when he said setting up the DAP is within the powers of government; the Constitution generally provides government a free hand in the allocation of taxes it collects as it sees fit. But then there’s also such a thing as the 4-Way Test to decipher if one is choosing or deciding rightly: Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build good will and better friendships? Will it be beneficial to all concerned?
Let’s do a run down of each.
- Is it the truth? The truth, in so far as how and where the PDAF, predecessor of the DAP, was allocated and spent is being contested and stretched. The way I look at it, a significant part of the truth is already revealed by COA. Why certain folks stamped their feet on the agency’s findings is understandable. But as long as taxpayers are not given light as to how and where of the PDAF allocation, the DAP, which essentially follows the same how and where, will be resisted.
- Is it fair to all concerned? The trouble with arbitrary processes and decisions is that arbitrariness trumps democracy. Fairness in a democracy means people air their voices and place their votes on processes and decisions that will affect them. A Mayor or Governor arbitrarily handing out scholarships to 100 local “indigents” using PDAF (or DAP, for that matter) funds when in fact there are a thousand others in the same locality who are even more indigent who are excluded is an example of undemocratic process. On the other hand, the democratic process in place is for Local Government Units to organize Local School Boards through which public funds are made available for all schools and school-aged children in the localities. The Boards for their part would have processes and strategies in place that would reach out to all indigent children. Now, we’re hearing that the DAP will fund emergency response in disaster areas; well and good but what is the disbursement process? whose decision is it to make who gets what, how, where? And aren’t there DRRMOs in the localities to do the task?
- Will it build good will and better friendships? Apparently, the PDAF (and now the DAP) has created ill will between the elect and the people. And definitely made bitter enemies between former friends.
- Will it be beneficial to all concerned? If it’s not fair to all concerned, then it isn’t beneficial to all.
But the heart of these troubles is that the government has a problem protecting and bringing about democratic processes. We say we are a democracy but in fact we’re authoritarian. Take for example the hike in the Social Security System member contributions, the circumstances in which it happened similar to the concerns raised in PDAF. The hike was defended by government as having to do with funding members’ pensions. I’ve turned my head 360 degrees on this but I can’t see the connection between the explanation and the hike which, by the way, was unexpectedly thrown on the nation (of all “places”, during the SONA!). There were no consultations with or notice to members on the decision. No due process. It was imposed. There are other imposed decisions such as the K-12 Program and traffic schemes on major road networks (e.g. EDSA), to cite a couple. The lesson here for DAP is that policies imposed on people — the do-it-or-else kind — are certainly doomed. It is the first lesson learned in development work.
I understand however that the reason the Executive Branch set up the DAP may be to ‘accelerate’ disbursement of public funds which otherwise is torturuously slow to projects that can’t wait. But for me this is a stop-gap measure. The sustainable measure is to get the system up and working. By system, I mean the government agencies and their mandates. But most importantly, decentralized government. The way I see it, decentralization is co-opted by the over-active role of national government in the area of financing. Even after a decade of the 1991 Local Government Code, national government still has the local governments by their necks. Let local governance run its course. Let local governments do their jobs and answer for their decisions.