Senate begins Monday floor debates on President Duterte’s maiden national budget, a P3.3 trillion spending request, with billions in lump sums the Senate minority leader insisted “can still be itemized.”
Senator Ralph Recto claims that there is a “bipartisan consensus” to demand the “unbundling” of many lump sum allocations “in the interest of transparency, fast implementation and accountability.”
“Itemization,” Recto said, “is the antidote to the underspending” which hounded the previous administration, with one estimate pegging at P1 trillion the amount of appropriations “not spent in time or in full.”
“By knowing where funds will go, who will implement it, and details of what will be implemented, the projects will be delivered on time and the people win,” Recto said.
While it is ideal that lump sums “be fleshed out” in the general appropriations bill, “we can settle for a system in which the projects to funded by a lump sum allocation be listed by agencies immediately after the budget has been enacted.”
“For this year lang ito, kasi unang budget nila and they didn’t have enough time to prepare it, kasi seven weeks after the inaugural last June 30, submitted na sa Congress. But for 2018, dapat detalyado na talaga,” Recto said.
“Itemizing the budget, to the extent that can be allowed, makes it FOI-compliant. To make the budget terrific, then make it specific,” Recto said.
He cited the case of the proposed P135 billion capital outlays budget of the Department of Education “which should be specified in order to avoid the massive delays in school building construction in the past three years.”
He said the exact location “of where the 47,492 new classrooms will be built, and the 20,385 room to be repaired, and the 17,652 vocational buildings will be constructed next year should be listed.”
The same “elaboration,” he said, must be applied on the P5.4 billion farm-to-market budget of the Department of Agriculture, “which is not only a pittance but is P2 billion less than the budget for this year.”
If the National Irrigation Administration says it will bring water to 29,181 hectares of new farmlands, then the budget must say where, Recto added.
Recto said towns covered by the P3.7 billion proposed budget of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources for “forest rehabilitation” must be identified in advance. “Hindi pupwedeng bibigyan ka ng ilang bilyong piso at ang ahensya mo lang ang nakakaalam, dapat ang taumbayan din.”
Another big-ticket item bereft of details is the “mega P34.6 billion Local Government Support Fund or LGSF,” Recto added.
“This supposedly displaced the Bottom Up Budgeting (BUB) which has P19 billion this year. Now it has been supersized. At least the BUB was detailed. In the case of the LGSF, though there are broad rules, the grant, to a large extent, is still discretionary,” he said.
There are more items which can be “bettered if accompanied with details,” according to Recto. “There’s P1.7 billion for free WiFi spots. There’s at least P15 billion for road right-of-way.”
Recto said the deployment of new personnel hires can even be done per region or province.
“That’s not at an unreasonable demand. If 53,831 new teaching positions will be hired, then it is not too much to ask that the quotas per division be revealed. Ganoon din sa pulis. Kung hindi kaya per province, eh di sabihin natin ilan ang bawat rehiyon,” Recto said.
“The beauty in itemization is that the people would know that projects are forthcoming. That the taxes they have paid are being returned to them in kind. It is good governance, good politics,” he explained.
The senator, however, conceded that not all lump sums in the budget can be itemized. “Mayroong iba diyan na hindi talaga kaya. Halimbawa, sa death benefits, wala ka namang bolang kristal na magsasabi kung ilan ang mamaalam na government employees.”
The same is true with a portion of the Calamity Fund, he said. “Reconstruction of damaged areas, pwede mo i-earmark. Tulad ng panawagan natin na yung pondo next year, dapat i-peg kung magkano ang para sa Yolanda areas. “
“But in the case of typhoons that would come next year, you cannot predict how many and where they would hit,” he said.
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