Learning from developed nations | Inquirer Opinion

Learning from developed nations

12:35 AM November 06, 2013

Will our country be better off if our lawmakers have no pork barrel funds, and if the president’s similar fund is regulated? The answer is yes, and developed nations like Singapore, Britain, and Sweden show the way.

Singapore has a one-chamber body, with 99 members of Parliament (MPs) elected for a 5-year term. MPs each receive a fixed, nontaxable total allowance of US$166,000 (P7.2 million) a year to cover their office operations. They have no salaries. Their work is part-time and they hold full-time jobs. Their fixed annual allowance is relatively low among the civil servants in that country.

The Singaporean Parliament has no pork barrel system. The MPs have no power to identify projects of whatever kind. They have no power to “nominate” nongovernment organizations or contractors for any government project.

The Parliament has two main roles—to pass laws, including the national budget, and to monitor the executive branch, specifically how it spends the budget, and the decisions and programs of the ministers. During the Question Time, the MPs are feared by the ministers and executive officials.


The Parliament is not full-time, well-paid, or well-endowed with benefits. But it is able to pass good laws. It provides a good check and balance to the excesses of the executive branch.

Singapore’s population is only 4.5 million, yet its economy was worth US$274 billion in 2012. (The Philippine economy was worth US$250 billion in 2012. Its population is estimated at 97 million.)

Britain’s Parliament has two chambers—the House of Lords and the House of Commons. The members of the House of Lords—usually the senior bishops of religious groups and experts in various fields—are appointed by the Queen on the advice of the prime minister. The House of Commons has 650 MPs, elected for a 5-year term. They have a fixed basic salary of US$105,000 (P4.5 million) a year, and receive fixed and uniform allowances for office staff, travel, communications, housing and pension.

The British Parliament has no pork barrel system. In 2009 it passed a law creating the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority or Ipsa, which is vested with the sole power to determine and control the amount of the MPs’ salaries and allowances. The Ipsa is independent of the Parliament, the government and political parties.


Sweden has a one-chamber Parliament, with 349 MPs elected for a 4-year term. Like Britain and Singapore, it has no pork barrel funds for its MPs, who each have a fixed salary of US$108,000 a year.

There is a “transparency card” for each MP, which is like an ATM or credit card. All the official expenses, big and small, of each MP must be made using this card. At month’s end, each MP is required to sign the list of official expenses paid using this card.


Sweden’s population is only around 9 million. But the size of its economy was US$525 billion in 2012.

Other developed countries have no pork barrel system; what they have are fixed annual salaries and allowances for the members of their congress or parliament. Japan pays each MP US$182,000 a year; Australia, US$118,000; New Zealand, US$103,000; and Canada, US$151,000.

What do all these tell us? That there is a better system out there.

If the pork barrel system, in whatever form, is truly and completely abolished, if our lawmakers’ salaries and allowances are fixed annually by an independent body like Britain’s Ipsa, if we adopt a “transparency card” for our lawmakers like the one in Sweden, and if their powers and privileges are made to focus on enacting laws and seeking accountability from top officials of the executive branch for their decisions, programs, and expenditures, our Congress will become the biggest monitoring body in our government—and the biggest protector of our public funds. There will be no Priority Development Assistance Fund, no Disbursement Acceleration Program, etc.

Complete abolition of the pork barrel funds of our lawmakers, especially their power to identify projects, is a very good—indeed crucial—start. It will set off a chain of meaningful changes in our government.

Today, over 50 million Filipinos consider themselves poor, with roughly 18 million classified as “hungry poor” (Social Weather Stations surveys). Eighteen million “hungry poor” Filipinos are bigger than Singapore (pop.: 4.5 million), and bigger than Israel (pop.: over 10 million). Despite the Philippines’ high GDP growth rates in the past six years, National Statistical Coordination Board reports show that the poverty rate has not changed in the same period. Meanwhile, we borrowed from foreign and local banks around P700 billion this year…

We must abolish, truly and completely, the pork barrel system. It is the source of many evil things. It corrupts our lawmakers, and our society, in a big way. It leads to so much waste of public funds. It does not lead to countrywide development, or to the passage of good laws. It also creates monsters like political dynasties, warlords, private armies, and political killings.

The Bible says: “Your heart will be where your treasure is” (Luke 12:34). What is in the hearts of our leaders? What are the treasures they are seeking?

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Alex Lacson ([email protected]) is the president of Solidarity Movement Philippines, a national network of groups advocating good governance at the grassroots level, the barangays.

TAGS: Alex Lacson, column, pork barrel system

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