Making the most out of the budget

In two weeks, President Rodrigo Duterte will be delivering his third State of the Nation Address. By tradition, this is the time the Executive will present the 2019 National Expenditure Program to the Congress. Congress will review and deliberate the proposed national budget, and pass appropriate for the legislative measures for the 2019 appropriations.

According to Department of Budget and Management Secretary Benjamin Diokno, the proposed national budget for 2019 will amount to P3.757 trillion, which is 19.4 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. Secretary Diokno said that the government will be shifting from an obligations-based to cash-based budgeting to enhance the efficiency of national government disbursements.

As reported by the DBM, national government spending has significantly increased in 2017 and 2018. In the first quarter of 2018, government disbursements reached P782 billion, higher by 27 percent than the same period last year. This is attributable to the subsidies released by the government such as those for the health insurance premiums of senior citizens, irrigation projects of the National Irrigation Authority, and rice importation program of the National Food Authority. Spending on infrastructure and personnel services also highly contributed to the growth in government disbursements.

While the government has shown improvement in its spending, I am concerned about the efficiency and effectiveness of government agencies in implementing projects and programs with respect to the budget allocated for them. As an example, we have appropriated P662.69 billion for the Department of Public Works and Highways in 2017. However, as reported by the Commission on Audit, the agency was not able to utilize 66.4 percent or P440 billion of this allocated budget. CoA cited the delay and non-implementation of infrastructure projects as the primary reason for the department’s low fund disbursement. We expected the Duterte administration’s “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure program to be the primary driver of government spending. It seems that bureaucratic bottlenecks have stalled this program. Even the Department of Social Welfare and Development is being complained about for delayed delivery of services, particularly at times of calamities. There are issues of expired relief goods in the agency due to failure of urgent distribution.

Parochially, my district suffered from these delays. Bondoc Peninsula was badly hit by Typhoon “Nina” in December 2016, and it took more than a year before the Department of Education and the DPWH were able to repair the schools and roads damaged by the typhoon. While I do not really directly blame the cabinet members for these delays, I am hopeful that these avoidable situations will not be repeated in my, and all other areas of our country. Be assured that these concerns will be addressed before Congress approves the 2019 national budget. It is, after all, a budget for the people.

I forward my proposal that part of the national funds allocated to the government agencies be downloaded directly to the district and the local government units. For instance, the barangays, being the most basic unit of the government, has a direct access to the people. Our barangay and LGU officials have on the ground knowledge of what their constituencies and communities require, such as farm-to-market roads, road repairs, and educational and jobs assistance. In times of calamities, having direct access to funds allow LGUs to deliver faster response.

I have also been calling for the amendment of the Government Procurement Law, which may have loopholes that cause the delay in the procurement of goods despite the urgency of the need for them. We must remember, “a project delayed is a project denied.” Therefore, the national government should double their efforts in ensuring the timely and effective implementation of projects and programs for the benefit of the Filipino people.

The President said that the budget is a budget for the people. We should make sure to keep it that way.

Topics: Rodrigo Duterte , 2019 National Expenditure Program to the Congress , State of the Nation Address , Benjamin Diokno , Department of Budget and Management , National Food Authority
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