Reprinted from Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:18:00 08/18/2009
After the uproar over what some sectors have called “extravagant and ostentatious” spending by government officials on foreign trips, now should be an opportune time to remind them of Republic Act 6713, the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.
Section 4 (h) of RA 6713 says in part that “public officials shall lead modest lives appropriate to their positions and income” and that “they shall not engage in extravagant or ostentatious displays of wealth.” It behooves government officials, especially the high-ranking ones, to remember the law because they should lead the nation not just by precept but by example.
Government officials have to remember that they are not the owners but the stewards of public money. They have to spend it wisely and prudently, like any head of a family. They have to have a hierarchy of values, a schedule of priorities and a sense of proportion in the expenditure of public money.
Even when they are spending their personal funds while on a trip abroad, they have to remember that they come from a poor country where the poverty incidence is 26.9 per cent and 23.7 per cent of households suffer involuntary hunger. It would be the height of insensitivity for them to splurge on luxury hotels and expensive restaurants when millions of their countrymen are starving and living in hovels.
We are not saying that the President, Cabinet members and members of Congress should just eat at a hamburger or hot dog stand or stay in fleabag hotels while abroad. After all, they represent the Philippines while they are abroad and they have to stay in respectable hotels and eat at the better restaurants and not just cafeterias. But certainly they should not choose to stay in expensive five-star hotels and dine in the classiest restaurants.
The wise and prudent expenditure of public funds is not just a matter of following the letter and spirit of the law. It is not just a matter of scrimping on government funds at a time of a global and national economic crunch. It is also a matter of ethical correctness.
Perhaps government officials should remember the example of former Prime Minister Lee Kwan Yew of Singapore, one of the richest countries in Asia, who came to the Philippines many years ago with his wife and a few aides aboard a commercial jet. Taking a commercial airline did not diminish his stature as a leader in Asia. If anything, it impressed many people that the leader of a rich nation had the humility and practical good sense to travel aboard a commercial airline and not in a private jet .
And why can’t our government officials follow the example of the late former President Corazon Aquino, member of an old rich clan, who practiced voluntary simplicity and kept government spending on presidential trips at a minimum? At a time like this, when the plight of millions of Filipinos has been exacerbated by a global economic downturn, government officials have to set the example in austerity and voluntary simplicity.