Last week, I reported that on December 9—amidst loud fanfare about “public transparency”—the Bicameral Committee approved the total 2014 expenditure program of P2.264 trillion, slightly lesser than the P2.268 trillion originally proposed by the Executive. All in all, P3.2 billion of the P25-billion proposed PDAF was deleted, leaving approximately P22 billion which was redistributed among different agencies of government.
Before the readers of this column applaud and cheer the huge expenditure program, they have to be reminded that of the P2.268-trillion total expenditures, only P1.469 trillion will be approved by Congress and promulgated in the final version of the General Appropriations Act. Why is this so? This is because P796 billion is already considered automatically appropriated.
Thus, one-third of total expenditure was not scrutinized by Congress with the same degree and detail as the allocations in the proposed General Appropriations Bill. This also means that the public did not have the opportunity to comment and give inputs on this huge sum. Automatic appropriations include the controversial interest payments on debt, the internal revenue allotment, and the special accounts in the general fund, which includes the Malampaya Fund.
Old lumps, new lumps
As pointed out in my last column some lump sums have been rebaptized and renamed, e.g. the Calamity Fund is now National Disaster Rehabilitation and Reconstruction with an increased allocation of P13 billion. The increase of P5.5 billion was taken from an old lump and transferred to a new lump, the NDRRM Fund.
Talk about born-again lumps!
Another old lump, the Unprogrammed Fund of P139 billion has been reorganized to accommodate new lumps—the Disaster Relief and Mitigation Fund of P3 billion and the Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Fund of P80 billion.
Are these cases of new lumps for old lumps? Just asking.
Examining the fine print in the general provisions of the bicam budget: Legitimization of another bigger lump?
Generally, those who read the national budget (including legislators) don’ t give the General Provisions of the General Appropriations Act a second look. The last time I looked at the General Provisions was when the proposed appropriations were pending before the Senate. I noted at least 8 provisions needed to be amended.
Now, the bicam-approved budget has a general provision which states that “Providing that the realignment of savings from capital outlays be undertaken not later than the third quarter of the current year.” The meaning of this provision has to be clarified. Does it mean that the Executive can realign “savings” even earlier than the third quarter? January, March, June?
Questions are already raised by different citizens’ groups about the definition and timing of savings. Do savings become savings whenever the Executive defines them as such? Shouldn’t the definition of savings conform to generally accepted practice? Aren’t savings usually declared after a “final determination” at the end of the year or the completion of a project?
Wouldn’t this provision legitimize an existing practice, which has been questioned and challenged repeatedly?
As early as 2006, Social Watch had already called for a clearer definition of savings and for closer regulation and monitoring of these items. This is a running issue between the government and the public. It is high time that this debate be resolved.
A call for vigilance on the budget
The Executive has announced that the 2014 budget will be approved before the end of the year. At this point in time, the legislature is already through with its task, now that the bicam report has already been submitted. It is likely that the Executive will approve the budget and the accompanying general provisions. If this happens, a monstrous lump, which has not been excised will become even bigger and produce new lumps. That is, unless public reaction will be such that the third branch of government will adjudicate and decide speedily.
In the human physical system, the appearance of lumps can signal either a benign or a malignant disease. When a lump is excised and many more appear in its place, what could be the message?
The PDAF Lump is dead! Long live the remaining, as well as the new Lumps?