Posted July 31, 2010 00:06:00(Mla Time)
Philippine Daily Inquirer
EASILY ONE of the most shocking parts of President Aquino’s recent State of the Nation Address was his litany of the fabulous perks and privileges that the directors of the Manila Waterworks and Sewerage System have awarded themselves. Mr. Aquino’s rapid-fire recitation of the bonuses, allowances and other benefits the MWSS officers have helped themselves to seemed to go on forever: mid-year bonus, productivity bonus, anniversary bonus, year-end bonus, Christmas bonus (plus a separate Christmas package), financial assistance, technical assistance, loans, plus cars and drivers for board members. Adding them all up results in a total compensation package that is staggering by government standards, and the incumbent officials were enjoying this, even as retirees waited to be paid their pensions, according to the President.
Compounding the list of horrors is the news that the land allotted for the housing project for MWSS workers and executives is bigger than Rizal Park. And it sits right smack on the La Mesa watershed, eating up precious land that should be planted to trees, not mansions of government employees, and possibly polluting Metro Manila’s source of drinking water. Even as parts of the metropolis go waterless, the MWSS is gutting portions of the critical watershed and building gated villages.
How did this happen? And why was this state of affairs allowed to flourish?
The short answer is, because the MWSS officers could get away with it. As a government corporation with its own independent charter, the MWSS’ autonomous operations was an open invitation for its officers to gorge on the company’s trough without accountability to shareholders or partners. They could vote themselves excessive perks simply because they have the power to do so.
But it is not only the MWSS executives who are swimming in bonuses; ordinary employees, too, are enjoying the same perks, courtesy of an existing collective bargaining agreement between the MWSS rank-and-file and management. Obviously, the higher-ups were only too happy to spread the money around and thereby keep everyone on their side as they heaped on themselves ever-more extravagant add-ons.
The tab so far: salaries and bonuses equivalent to over 30 months’ pay for both employees and their superiors—all approved, as MWSS officer in charge Macra Cruz helpfully pointed out, by the MWSS board.
Who wouldn’t be happy with such a mutually beneficial arrangement? Apparently, working at the MWSS has become the cushiest job in government. Meanwhile, the average government employee can only look forward to his or her 13th-month pay.
But after the President denounced it in the strongest terms, Cruz promised that they “would comply and moderately adjust” their bonuses.
Moderately adjust? The MWSS’ compensation structure should be subjected to a thorough audit and scaled back to reasonable levels.
But then the MWSS is just one of some 90 GOCCs operating with their own charters, the actions of their respective boards beyond the pale of regular review and oversight. Even if just a third of that number apply the same creative approach that the MWSS is using to compensate its officers and employees, the sum would still be outrageous.
The President’s denunciation of the culture of waste and entitlement in offices like the MWSS and the National Food Administration is a good start. But it shouldn’t end there, or with the “moderate adjustment” in salaries promised by Cruz.
A comprehensive review of the charters of these GOCCs should be undertaken, along with an honest-to-goodness audit of their books. There ought to be a law limiting the ability of GOCC directors and officers to approve benefits and emoluments that they themselves will enjoy.
Lifestyle checks especially on incumbent and former officials of such corporations would also be in order. Surely those huge bonuses must translate into correspondingly hefty taxes as well.
In the United States, runaway executive bonuses were a prime object of public ire as the economy imploded, forcing the White House to respond by putting in place a mechanism to curtail such obscene perks. And these were private companies they were regulating, not GOCCs.
The Philippine government, on the other hand, is supposedly in control of the MWSS and other GOCCs. The public is waiting to see what the Aquino administration will do to control the excesses of these agencies.
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