Last December 20, 2014, the President approved the 2014 General Appropriations Act and signed it into law. The public is asking whether it is any different from earlier GAAs.
The 2014 budget has the same features as earlier budgets, except on the matter of PDAF and the lump sums. Even as the PDAF has been officially declared unconstitutional, the public is not fully convinced that it has been totally excised. This four letter word is nowhere to be seen in the 2014 budget but the lump sums of the Executive are still in place.
The disputed PDAF was originally proposed for Ph25 billion. It was part f the Ph310 billion Special Purpose Funds of the Executive. While the PDAF has either been realigned or removed, the Special Purpose Funds under the control of the Executive have been retained at the whopping total of Ph282.570 billion. The following are the allocations in the Special Purpose Funds for 2014:
The allocations are not significantly different from the original allocations except for PDAF which was removed, Miscellaneous Personnel Benefits Fund which was reduced, Calamity Fund which was increased, and the new lump the Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Program
Challenges and issues in the 2014 budget
1. The biggest single challenge in the 2014 budget is the continued presence of lump sums. The Executive’s Special Purpose Fund is composed of 11 allocations totaling Ph282.570 billion.
Since the Special Purpose Fund is in the 2014 budget which now has the force of law, what can media and the citizens do?
First, they have to join hands in closely monitoring the budget, especially the lumps.
Second, they can insist that the general provision requiring DBM to report quarterly to the Committee on Finance of the Senate and the Committee on Appropriations of the House on the status of all lump sum appropriations. In 2010, the Commission on Audit noted that the DBM has not been complying with this requirement.
Third, they can remind the Commission on Audit to conduct a special audit of these funds regularly. The last time an audit was conducted on the SPFs was in 2009. The period covered was up to 2008. This is now the year of our Lord 2014.
2. Another equally daunting challenge is to accelerate the Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Program. It appears that there is no lack of funding, whether from domestic or external sources.
3. A related problem is Disaster Planning and Preparedness. As a people, we are quick to respond to the destruction created by calamities. We are not as quick and forward-looking in terms of preparing for future calamities. This is very clear in the 2014 budget.
4. Still another problem is governance. Citizens are fed by the media with a daily diet of scandals and new evidences of massive corruption. The total national expenditure program is Ph2.264 trillion. Total programmed appropriations is Ph1.468 trillion. Unprogrammed funds amount to Ph139 billion. It cannot be said that the government does not have sufficient funds. The challenges of good governance remain formidable.
5. Finally, the budget has yet to become a tool for poverty reduction. For decades, the budget has not functioned as an instrument of redistribution of income and wealth and of inclusive development. One look at our poverty and social statistics raises the all important question: if our budget is so large, how come so many of us are poor.
Continue war against lump sums
It is claimed that many reforms have been introduced in our budget system. The entire country was euphoric about the Supreme Court Decision on congressional pork, or PDAF. Citizens are looking forward to its decision on the Development Acceleration Program. DBM has just announced its GAA as Release Document System. Any attempt at reform must be given a chance to work.
Unfortunately, the lump sums will not be covered by this new system, precisely because lumps don’t have details. Thus, the very problem that is the object of citizens’ demands is not covered by this newest reform.
One is almost tempted to repeat the adage that “the more things change, the more they remain the same!”
The year 2014 is fraught with challenges. We are threatened by looming natural calamities even as we are still struggling to recover from past disasters. The scandal which has ignited people’s rage has not been completely solved. the Office of the Ombudsman is still sifting the evidence.
In the meantime, poverty continues to rise, along with unemployment and all the other social ills even as the GDP likewise continues to rise.
Allow me to repeat once more what I have endlessly stated: only the combined forces of media and citizens can bring about genuine budget reforms.
Yes, the battle against the constitutionality of PDAF has been won. Nonetheless, the war against the rest of lump sums in the budget continues. Perhaps, just perhaps, if we citizens, CSOs, civic and educational institutions, faith based organizations and media put our act together, 2014 may just become an annus mirabilis (wonderful year).