Personality and pork barrel politics

Posted: March 6, 2014 in candidate-centered politics, freedom of information, personality politics, pork barrel politics

Plenary hall of House of Representatives

Plenary hall of House of Representatives, Congress of the Philippines

In the Philippines, we have a candidate-centered rather than a party-centered electoral and political system. This is the systemic root of pork barrel politics.

In candidate-centered democratic polities, individual legislators exert an inordinately-heavy influence on policy making. Politicians need to develop personal reputations to get elected. Their party affiliations will not matter much and they try to develop their reputations as reliable representatives of constituents, supporters, and financiers.

For the benefit of their constituents, they ‘bring home the bacon’ to finance local public works and other projects that generate local employment or bring goods and services like medicines, sports equipment, and the like to the home district.

To non-resident supporters and financiers, legislators must be able to offer divisible policy favors such as government contracts, subsidized credit, fiscal incentives, and tax breaks.

A decisive break from the intolerably GREASY pork barrel system requires a break from candidate-centered systems. Punishing political butterflies who flit from one political party to another is a good step towards building strong political parties. Clear demarcations between parties through party platforms is another. Public money for party building and campaign finance is another idea that we should debate publicly.

However, given the strong tendency for politicians and top bureaucrats to conspire against the popular interest, pending legislation such as the Freedom of Information (FOI) act must be passed first. It will help alleviate the imbalance of information between politicians and citizens. It will strengthen the people’s capacity at pro-active governance.

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