Quantcast

Passion For Reason

Those strange government allowances

By

The impeachment trial can also be educational. The Filipino public is just now getting a glimpse of the strange life of government employees. The Supreme Court’s chief disbursement officer rattled off the various allowances paid to Chief Justice Renato Corona: Rata (or representation allowance/travel allowance), Pera (or personnel economic relief allowance), “productivity enhancement benefit, Christmas cash gift, additional Christmas cash gift and yearend cash gift.” And we thought only government corporations were running out of names for the bonuses they give their executives!

The reactions have been varied. Some people are surprised that government salaries and benefits can be decent, after all. Some are aghast that allowances are paid at all for additional work. The prosecution asks that allowances be supported by receipts showing that they have been used only for their specified purpose. Following that logic, if someone collects his travel allowance, why should he still use an official car and all its accompanying perks, like a driver, fuel, insurance and maintenance—all at government expense? That’s like having your travel allowance and eating it, too. But again, if we apply that test to the Chief Justice, maybe we should apply the same test to all the Supreme Court justices, and for that matter, all government officials across the board without exception!

It may look weird to the public that the salary is just a fraction of the Chief Justice’s take-home pay, that his allowances can be very substantial, and that some of them are paid regardless of their designated purpose. But why has it become the practice, as the high court’s chief disbursement officer testified? It’s all because salaries are fixed under the rules on salary standardization, while the Supreme Court’s constitutionally protected “fiscal autonomy” gives it more flexibility with its budget and allows it to convert its unspent funds into all sorts of bonuses for its staff. Thus the earlier tiff between Malacañang and the Supreme Court. The budget department noticed that personnel positions in the judiciary were being left unfilled and their budget reallocated for bonuses. Accordingly, it insisted that judiciary personnel funds be released only as each vacancy was filled.

In a way, it’s also a strategy to avoid the taxman, and this is something that the government merely picked up from the private sector. By thus characterizing the moneys as allowances, the government enables its employees to reduce their tax payments and indirectly augments their income even more. Finally, since allowances are not governed by the strict rules on promotions and salaries, the gods in each government office are able to custom-tailor the benefits as they wish. This is a perennial source of grievance of rank-and-file judiciary employees: that those closer to the gods in Padre Faura actually get a much heftier share of the funds each time.

What the public can learn from the Corona trial is the inner structure of incentives and rewards. Who would have thought that those House and Senate electoral tribunals paid allowances that dwarfed the monthly salaries of other professional staffs in government? On the other hand, is it realistic for us to think that the Chief Justice actually performed the social obligations of his post on his measly representation allowance? The impeachment trial has thus far resulted in a more detailed statement of assets, liabilities and net worth—far too detailed and burdensome, our congressmen say. Perhaps one legacy of this trial is a thorough review of these allowances, a more frank description of their nature and purposes, and a more candid approach to fixing the perks of government office. In other words, if in the end, we really pay, say, P200,000 a month for a high-level government official, and if after all funds have always been available to sustain those payments, why go through the fiction of paying them small salaries, and then paying the rest in allowances and bonuses of all sorts?

Singapore is surely wealthier than the Philippines but it has openly declared that its top government officials are paid salaries that match those of top executives in their leading corporations. This guarantees that they are able to recruit high-quality leaders to the top echelons of the government and who, once in office, would have no incentive to steal or cheat.

(On the other hand, note the downside. A dissident Singaporean lawyer, a former solicitor general [now in exile in Cambridge, Massachusetts], has written that Singapore’s chief justice is the highest paid chief justice in the whole world and that, in effect, it is built-in corruption. It’s like the bribe is tucked into his salary and, once appointed, he has no incentive whatsoever to rock the boat.)

The tragedy of the allowance/bonus regime is that the government ends up paying big amounts, just the same, but the government official still thinks he’s getting paid too little. A straightforward salary regime would be more forthright. It will be easier to administer. It will be more transparent and will be better regulated as a systemic reward for good performance, and not as a personal gift from a well-placed patron.

At least, with the “Christmas cash gift, additional Christmas cash gift and yearend cash gift,” the labels themselves were telling, in the sense of a surprise present for the Christmas holidays. It’s the less candid “allowances” that are more troubling, and that dare the impeachment court to accept the legal fictions of life in the Philippines, or to insist that the Chief Justice respect the labels as binding in fact and in law.

* * *

Comments to passionforreason@gmail.com


Follow Us


Follow us on Facebook Follow on Twitter Follow on Twitter


More from this Column:

Recent Stories:

Complete stories on our Digital Edition newsstand for tablets, netbooks and mobile phones; 14-issue free trial. About to step out? Get breaking alerts on your mobile.phone. Text ON INQ BREAKING to 4467, for Globe, Smart and Sun subscribers in the Philippines.

Short URL: http://opinion.inquirer.net/?p=25019

Tags: allowances , corona impeachment , featured column , Government , judiciary , Supreme Court



Copyright © 2014, .
To subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines, call +63 2 896-6000 for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu or email your subscription request here.
Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer's day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate. Or write The Readers' Advocate:
c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94
Advertisement
Advertisement

News

  • More legal woes for Cedric Lee
  • NATO ups military presence amid Russian threat
  • DOH issues official statement on confirmed case of MERS-CoV
  • Aquino to stay at home during Lenten holidays
  • Man charged with hoax near marathon finish line
  • Sports

  • Tenacious Iran frustrates Qatar to retain Asian Club volleyball crown
  • Floyd Mayweather is ESPN’s top-paid athlete
  • Pistorius trial: Judge sets 2-week adjournment
  • China, Taiwan rout foes for 3rd, 5th places in Asian Club volleyball
  • Ginebra’s new import Freeman arrives, makes PBA return vs ROS
  • Lifestyle

  • Are your favorite malls open this Holy Week break?
  • Celebrate Easter Sunday at Buddha-Bar Manila
  • Moriones feast: A slow, steady transformation
  • Weaving ‘palaspas’ a tradition kept alive in Tayabas City
  • Finalists announced for best translated books
  • Entertainment

  • Filipino rock icons to hold silent concert
  • Mommy Dionisia Pacquiao’s greatest hits
  • Deniece Cornejo posts bail—report
  • Miley Cyrus hospitalized, cancels US concert
  • Otaku Summer Jam 2014: Summer’s hottest J-rock/Cosplay event
  • Business

  • Russian economy hit by Ukraine turmoil
  • PSEi firms up ahead of Lenten break
  • I-Remit teams up with Lakhoo for remittances from Oman
  • Megawide nets P1.4 B in 2013
  • Longer TRO sought on rate hike
  • Technology

  • Smart phone apps and sites perfect for the Holy Week
  • Tech company: Change passwords or suffer ‘Heartbleed’
  • Filling the digital talent gap
  • SSS to shut down website for Holy Week
  • Another reason to quit social media this Holy Week: your safety
  • Opinion

  • We may never know
  • Couple of things
  • Mommy D’s magic
  • Stop bizarre and bloody Good Friday rituals
  • Holy Week taboos
  • Global Nation

  • Netizens welcome Japan’s visa-free travel plan
  • Visa-free travel by Filipinos to Japan still a proposal
  • Visa-free travel to Japan could boost tourism
  • 2 PCG men ordered arrested over Balintang Channel shooting
  • US Embassy closed on Holy Thursday, Good Friday
  • Marketplace