Taking a cue from the open government initiative launched by U.S. President Barack Obama in 2009, Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago wants a government website that will show the public how taxpayers’ money is being spent by the government.
According to Santiago, under Obama’s initiative, the U.S. government developed the website Data.gov that makes government data available to the public.
Santiago wants the practice emulated in the Philippines, with a government website that would enable the public to track pork barrel projects and the discretionary funds of every public official; and know the salaries and sources of additional income of high government officials.
These discretionary funds include the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses (MOOE), intelligence funds, lump-sum funds, and special purpose funds.
The senator said that the creation of an online dashboard for public funds will make government spending transparent, participatory, and collaborative.
“The public has the right to know where their taxes go and if government is spending public funds wisely,” Santiago said. “For example, the online dashboard would be able to show citizens which government projects are over budget or behind schedule. Our netizens are already tracking bloated government projects on their own, as shown by the recent uproar over the P7-million flagpole being erected at the Luneta, but an online dashboard would centralize all information and make tracking government funds easier.”
Although the Department on Budget and Management (DBM) already has a website where information on the PDAF is posted, the senator deems it insufficient.
“As shown by the recent PDAF scandal involving bogus NGOs and ghost projects, information on government projects should be as comprehensive as possible and easily accessible to the public,” Santiago said.
The DBM website posts information on projects chosen for funding by each legislator, a brief project description, and the project proponent.
The senator envisions the website to be a searchable online dashboard that could feature additional and detailed information on the recipients, beneficiaries, contractors, source, progress status of government funded projects.
Santiago said the People’s March on 26 August 2013 showed public clamor for fiscal transparency and accountability, especially in the wake of the recent multi-billion peso PDAF scam.
At the same time, Santiago renewed her call for the immediate passage of the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill, saying “a vigilant and informed citizenry is our most effective weapon against graft and corruption.”
“Democratizing information is the government’s responsibility. The right of the people to information on matters of public concern is enshrined in our Bill of Rights. We are party to the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which provides that access to information is a basic human right. An FOI law is long overdue,” Santiago said.