Commentary by: Mona Mashadi Rajabi in Tehran
I was standing in front of the school’s office and Melody, my daughter, was right beside me. All the children were passing by happily with their parents.
The principal gave me the registration forms and started to talk about the rules and regulations of the school. I was there to register Melody in junior kindergarten.
While I was filling out one of the forms, the principal pointed to an important part and said: “Please write two phone numbers of family members or trusted people, the people whom we can call in case of an emergency.” He continued, “if something comes up, there must be someone other than you and your husband that we can call.”
But, there was no one else to call and it made me nervous. I explained that my family was new in the country and no other family members or trusted friends to call. It was just us, I said, promising to be available Melody needed help.
My daughter's big moment
I was busy attending preparation classes at university when the big day for Melody arrived. It was her First Day at school. Parents were supposed to be available to accompany their children to help them get ready for a milestone moment in their young lives. Parents were expected to give the children a goodbye kiss and wish them a good First Day at school.
It was a big moment for my daughter, a four-year-old girl who wanted to start the journey of her life, but, sadly, I could not be there to support her.
I had to attend a lecture, so I left home early in the morning and my husband took her to school. I learned that the principal was so surprised because of my absence as I missed the most memorable day of my daughter’s education. It was the day that would never come back and the memory that would not be repeated in the future.
After a few months, Melody’s teacher invited the parents to talk about their children’s behaviour and performance in school, and I missed that occasion, too. I missed it because I had an exam on the same day and I had to be at the university.
My absence from my daughter’s life sadly continued. She became sick and I was at my office in the university for my teaching assistant job. She attended the school’s Halloween party and I was busy preparing for my mid-term exams.
She started to speak English and I was not there to witness it, she started to learn French and sing some short songs and I was not there to enjoy it, she found friends and I could not be there to celebrate her friendships, she got invited to her friends’ birthday parties and I could not accompany her, and she went to the playgrounds and I was too tired to play along with her.
I was never available for her, as I was either busy at school or tired at home.
My wish list
I was unhappy and unsatisfied deep inside as I was living a dual life. A life of a full time Ph.D. student who had to work all day long and the life of a mother who was supposed to raise a happy and healthy child but was missing all the precious moments of her daughter’s childhood.
It was not just me in this situation. Many international graduate students with children felt the same as they were alone and had no family or close friends around to help them. They were always busy at school and could not attend to the needs of their children. Many of my colleagues felt like a failure as a parent and lived in an unstable emotional and financial situation in Canada.
I thought about alternative solutions that could help parents like myself who were also full-time students.
I wished the university’s educational calendar started one day after the First Day of children’ school. I wished the schoolteacher could give a couple of choices to parents from which they could choose the one that fit their schedule to speak about the children’s performance at school. I wished the university’s teaching schedule was more flexible and professors cared more about graduate students who had a big responsibility as a parent specially when they had to work as a teaching assistant.
Those were the thoughts that occupied my mind, but they remained a wish list.
Finally, an unbalanced life
Unfortunately, I could do little about my circumstances. The university expected me to be a full time student and a failure at school could lead to the termination of my student visa and eventually an order to me to leave Canada. My husband and Melody were my dependent and a change in my status could have changed theirs as well.
So, I, like most of other international graduate students, had to sacrifice my family life in order to stay in Canada on my student visa. This was an unfair deal for a parent graduate student.
Mona Mashhadi Rajabi holds a Master’s degree in economics. As a business journalist living in Tehran, she has written for publications such as Donyay-e-eghtesad, Tejarat-e-farda, Jahan-e-sanat and Ireconomy.
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Languages are the most powerful way to preserve and develop culture and to promote it all across the world. International Mother Language Day is celebrated every year on 21st February. This day promotes the awareness of language and cultural diversity all across the world. It was first announced by UNESCO on November 17, 1999 and it has been celebrated every year. The 21st of February 1952, the date the Bangladesh community refers to as the Ekushe February, when four young students were killed in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, because of Bengali and Urdu language controversy.
Philippine Asian News Today
The series of articles published by the Philippine Daily Inquirer on the pork barrel scam that has defrauded the Philippine government of an estimated P10 billion gave unassailable proof that the pork barrel program is one of the major sources of graft and corruption in government. They also exposed the loose implementation of funding processes in both the government and the banking system.
The revelations made by six former employees of the alleged mastermind, Janet Lim Napoles, owner of the trading company JLN, on how the company scammed billions of pesos through ghost projects and deliveries using pork barrel, Malampaya and fertilizer funds most probably sent blood pressures of readers rising. And reading what Napoles allegedly told her employers many times that “as long as there is government, there is money” makes one feel like vomiting.
In its series of explosive articles, the Inquirer said JLN Corp., using just a list of bogus recipients and foundations, and forged signatures of local officials, has allegedly converted billions of pesos in government funds into kickbacks.
The article said the JLN Group of Companies had been running the alleged racket with the complicity of officials, including legislators, and had gotten away with it because of her extensive connection in the government, according to her former employees.
The report said Napoles established foundations or NGOs to serve as recipients of the funds and named her own employees, including a nanny, as presidents of these outfits.
The funds, which were deposited in the foundations’ bank accounts, were eventually remitted to her to be split between her and the lawmaker whose PDAF allotment was used, or the official of the state agency involved.
According to the former employees, a communication from a senator indicating that his or her PDAF fund be allocated to an agency, say, the DA, would start the ball rolling.
The team would prepare the paper work, such as a memorandum of agreement, a project proposal and a letter for financial assistance from a mayor to the secretary of agriculture, all using fake documents, scanned letterheads and forged signatures. Napoles’ personal assistant would sign as the “mayor.”
“Everything is forged. The mayor was unaware of such a project and that there were funds for this,” one of the whistleblowers said. The requested “fund assistance” would range from P1.5 million to P10 million.
How can a scam involving billions of pesos in government funds be allowed to go on for years despite the presence of red flags all over the processes? How were the funds released despite the fake documents and forged signatures? Doesn’t the Department of Budget verify documents before releasing funds? Doesn’t the Commission on Audit make a pre-audit before the funds are released? Why were the alleged non-governmental organizations (NGOs) registered without verification of submitted documents? Is it really that easy to get money from the government?
The answers to these questions would lead to only thing: that despite proclamations by the Aquino administration to the contrary, graft and corruption remain rampant in the entire bureaucracy and that in the Philippines, a bribe does not only go a long way, but all the way. It can only happen in the Land of Pork and Scams.
In the United States, it takes months of processing and verifications before one can register a foundation and get funds or grants from government agencies. In the Philippines, as shown by this “mother of all scams”, even a nanny and her sons can register a foundation and receive hundreds of millions of funds from the government.
The articles also exposed the vulnerability of the banks in being used in scams. How can small employees withdraw up to P30 million in cash, as one of the former employees claimed she once did, without raising red flags? How were nannies and employees able to open bank accounts using fictitious NGOs? Don’t banks verify documents submitted to them? Don’t such huge transactions involving government funds raise suspicions? Shouldn’t banks be required to report such suspicious money transactions to the COA or the BIR?
In the US, any money transactions involving $10,000 and above is reported to the IRS, which, in turn, would alert other agencies of suspicious dealings. Banks check with credit bureaus and other agencies before one can open even a savings account.
The expose also showed that despite assurances from Malacanang and Congress that the pork barrel system, which allots P70 million yearly for each congressman and P200 million for each senator for public works and other projects for their constituencies, is one of the biggest sources of corruption in the government.
Five senators and 23 congressmen have been named as some of the sources of pork barrel funds channeled by Napoles’ company to fictitious NGOs and eventually to the pockets of Napoles, senators, congressmen and other government officials.
As I have repeatedly pointed out in my previous columns, pork barrel is just a euphemism for graft, or for kickback. They all mean the same. And each one of them has been institutionalized in the Philippines’ graft-ridden society.
Senators and congressmen say pork barrel is necessary for the equitable distribution of public works funds in the country. With the allocation of pork barrel funds, lawmakers claim, congressional districts are assured of a fair share of public works and other projects. Great, except that it has also resulted in the equitable distribution of kickbacks and graft money to favored senators and congressmen.
How? It is common knowledge that from 15 to 25 percent of the cost of a particular public works project is earmarked for kickbacks to certain officials. In the city level, the mayor gets the biggest share of the “commission,” with the city engineer and other officials getting a chunk of the 15-25 percent kickback. In the provincial level, it is the governor who gets the biggest share, followed by the provincial engineer and other officials.
In the case of the pork barrel, the senator or the congressman is given a share of the pork barrel funds and is given the leeway to identify the project and, of course, his favored contractor. A rigged bidding is held, if deemed necessary, and the project is given to the lawmaker’s contractor, who, in turn, gives the usual 15-25 percent “commission” or “finder’s fee”, which actually is another euphemism for kickback. In the case of the JLN scam, it was alleged that the involved lawmaker or agency head got as much as 50%.
There have been many calls to abolish the pork barrel, but they have all fallen on deaf ears. The Office of the President, which has sole discretion to allocate and release the funds, wouldn’t want it to go away because the President is able to use it to sway senators and congressmen to its side on critical issues. Members of Congress, for obvious reasons, want it to stay.
But if President Aquino is really serious about his promise to curb corruption, he only has to stop all pork barrel allocations and let Congress allocate funds depending on the needs of the various government agencies, such as the departments of public works and highways, agriculture, transportation and communications, education, etc.
But is Aquino really serious about his “daang matuwid” proclamation? We will soon know.
The Balita Newspaper
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-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit