The national budget is a complicated matter, and attempts to simplify it for the common man’s comprehension involve likening it to balancing finances for the household. In some cases the comparison is apt; in others, not quite so.
Certainly, there is virtue in underspending—using less money than programmed for a particular expense. An economical family always uses less money than it makes, resulting in savings which could be allotted for worthier pursuits or even an occasional, much-deserved luxury.
We were raised to believe that we should temper the urge to spend and save for a rainy day, which is bound to come one way or another.
The previous administration of President Benigno Aquino III appeared to take this matter to heart. Proclaiming that it championed fiscal prudence and transparency, it prided itself in spending even less than what was planned.
As a result, for instance, a pitiful fraction of Public-Private Partnership projects ever materialized. Instead of strengthening the tools it could use to prevent corruption at the bidding stages, in that regime chose to not go through with the projects altogether, compromising crucial infrastructure gains.
And then, funds that were saved were repurposed into other means. The trouble was that “worthy” was relative—what was good for some sectors were detrimental to others.
It is perhaps a tad self-serving, but Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno said the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte has been “more effective” in spending, specifically the confidential and intelligence funds. Of course, many would wonder — what activities exactly are involved? Again, discretion is everything.
Another comparison would be in providing budget allocations to lawmakers for them to spend for their constituents. Opposition lawmakers however decried they did not get allocations from the signed 2018 budget. They characterized the move as an “assault to democracy” and a combination of “vengeance plus caprice.”
This happens all the time, of course, but just because we are used to it does not make it any more right. Again, in comparison to a household, a conscientious parent does not give one child less financial support just because the child is not a favorite, or tends to disagree with the parents.
The budget is supposed to lay down the priorities of an administration. However noisy the politics, or controversial the policies, the budget brings a semblance of sobriety and order into government. Our officials should try to prevent it from being taken hostage by partisanship or by misguided beliefs.