Government’s capacity to “build, build, build” infrastructure will be tested by a review of how fast it is building the roads, classrooms, irrigation, hospitals funded by the current year’s budget, Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto said.
Recto said the Senate review of the Duterte administration’s proposed 2018 national budget for 2018 of P3.7 trillion will “center on its ability to utilize the appropriations for public works. “
“What projects have been delivered? What are delayed or derailed? ‘Yan yung mga tanong na dapat sagutin ng mga ahensya,” Recto said.
He revealed that “there is a bipartisan intention to demand an accounting from agencies which have been given large funds for infrastructure, as well as those who have been allocated funds to hire critical personnel like teachers and policemen.”
“In short, is underspending a thing of the past? Or is it a continuing concern?” he asked. “Now that the shoe is on the other foot, have you solved the problem you have accused your predecessors of doing?”
Some officials of the current administration have been quoted as saying that the Aquino administration had failed to spend or delayed the spending of an estimated P1 trillion in appropriations.
But a preliminary Senate estimate circulated among senators pegged at P185.8 billion the amount of unreleased appropriations in 2016, on top of unobligated allotments of P410.8 billion.
For senators, “agencies of interest,” Recto said, include the Education, Health, Transportation, Agriculture, and Public Works and Highways departments.
“In the case of DepED, how many of the new classrooms funded in last year’s budget have been completed?” Recto said.
For 2017, DepED was given 109.3 billion to build 47,492 new classrooms and P2.47 billion to buy 66,492 school desks, furniture and fixtures, Recto said.
For 2018, there is a proposed P106.1 billion for 47,000 new classrooms and P3.47 billion for 84,781 school desks, furniture and fixtures.
Another agency plagued with slow-moving projects is the Department of Health, Recto said.
For this year, the DOH’S Health Facilities Enhancement Program was given P24.19 billion. In its 2018 budget, there is a provision of P29.03 billion for the same program.
“In both DOH and DepED, they still have inherited backlog of deliverables from 2016,” Recto said.
Recto said the fund absorptive capacity of the National Irrigation Administration, an office under the Cabinet Secretary, will also be scrutinized.
“This year may budget ito na P38.4 billion. Next year, may request for P41.9 billion. Ang tanong: Ilan na ang natapos nila? O nasimulan man lang,” Recto said.
He said the Department of Transportation will be quizzed if it had been able to wipeout the logjam of projects left by the previous administration.
“Yung procurement hurdles ba, naayos na? Or is it still a slow train to procurement?” he said.
In this year’s a national budget, its rail sector was appropriated P22.1 billion. For 2018, the amount of P25.99 billion is proposed as the administration tries to jumpstart multiple stalled projects, he said.
Recto said the “pace and scope” in the hiring of important frontline personnel will also be scrutinized.
“Sa teachers, we have created 53,831 positions this year. Ilan ba sa kanila ang nag-log-in when classes opened in June? Sa pulis, 10,000 ang target i-hire, how many of them are now pounding their beats?” Recto said.
Recto reiterated his statement that the agencies’ “fund absorptive capacity” would also impact on the Senate debates on the administration’s mixed bag of proposed tax cuts and increases.
“We will be examining both ledgers. Income and spending. Bakit ka hihingi ng ganito kalaking bagong revenues kung hindi mo naman nagagasta?” Recto said.
Recto said knowing “spending humps” would explain why programs are “slow-moving” programs.
“It will serve a dual purpose. First, identify the fat which can be rechanneled to good programs like free public college,” Recto said.
“Second, we can cut overhead and frivolous expenses, so we can in turn reduce the number of new taxes the government is asking Congress to impose,” he added.