Senate Minority Leader Ralph Recto has served notice to heads of agencies who will appear before the Senate hearings on the proposed P3.35 trillion 2017 national budget “to be ready to itemize lump-sums in their budgets.”
Breaking down “block allocations,” Recto said, will result in faster completion of projects, make their implementation more transparent and inform the people of progress coming their way.
He blamed the failure to itemize some lump sums as the “main culprit” why projects in the past—especially in the transport and education sectors—were delayed.
“In part, our recent experience with underspending was a result of the absence of a detailed listing of projects,” Recto said, referring to an official tally that government underspending totaled P623 billion from 2011 to 2014.
He reminded agencies that are slated to get huge unitemized allocations “to expect senators from both sides of the aisle to ask you to break down such lump sums.”
“As they say, the budget is in the details. The specifics are as important as the bottom line,” Recto said.
Recto admitted that while “lump sums in the hundreds of billions dot the budget,” many of these—like the P37.2 billion proposed for the Calamity Fund or the P142.3 billion recommended for the Pension and Gratuity Fund—cannot be fully itemized.
“Hindi mo naman ma-pre-predict kung ilang bagyo ang darating at ilan ang mabibiktima. Sa retirement funds, hindi mo rin malalaman kung ilan, halimbawa, ang mamamatay na empleyado ng gobyerno next year,” he said.
But among the “huge lump sums which can and should be itemized” are those “for classroom construction, right-of-way of national roads, social protection, farm projects,” Recto said.
Recto is confident that “under the new management” of the Department of Education (DepEd), the embargo on itemizing education infrastructure projects will be lifted.
He noted that under DepEd’s P542.3 billion proposed outlay for 2017, P118.8 billion will be for the construction, repair or purchase of “basic education facilities” such as classrooms, science laboratories, toilets, chairs and other equipment.
“But what is there, for example, is just a one-line authorization that P109.3 billion will be for new buildings. What is ideal and proper is to give a rundown on where the buildings will be built and the cost of each,” he said.
Recto said one way to solve the “EDSA-like” pace in building classrooms is to list down in the national budget the names of the schools where they will be built.
He said he is “100 percent sure” that of the 43,000 new classrooms funded by the 2016 national budget, only a miniscule fraction was completed in time for the opening of classes last June.
Recto cited the P36.4 billion proposed subsidy to the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) as “a prime example” of a funding item which cries out for itemization.
The NIA should be ready to explain where these irrigation systems will be built or repaired, the exact places, and the number of hectares, Recto said.
On peace and order expenditures, Recto said “it is also but right for frightened taxpayers to demand where new policemen to be hired will be assigned and new police cars will be sent.”
While he commended the Department of Health’s (DOH) listing “in 27 pages of fine print the thousands of health centers and hospitals” that will be improved under the proposed P21.9 billion Health Facilities Enhancement Program, “the same itemization eludes the P16 billion medicine budget for 2017.”
“We will demand how much each health facility will get for medicines next year and that is a very reasonable demand,” Recto said.
Recto said “one vague big-ticket item which is a good candidate for elaboration” is the proposed P30 billion “Risk Management Program ” under the P67.5 billion Unprogrammed Fund.
“Ano ba ito? Pambayad sa contingent debts associated with PPP (Public Private Partnership) projects? Hindi nakalista kung anu-anong mga kompanya ang babayaran. Ni amount ng bawat isa wala. Bereft of details, this is a classic blank-check appropriation,” Recto said.