OUR second biggest frontpage news is about DBM Secretary Florencio Abad’s reply to former National Treasurer (who is a Manila Times columnist), Professor Leonor Magtolis Briones’ description of the 2015 budget as “an election budget.”
Expectedly, the DBM Secretary defended his and President Aquino’s proposed schedule of expenditures that will cost us taxpayers P2.606 trillion.
Prof. Briones is the lead convenor of Social Watch Philippines (SWP), a civil society organization that has been doing an excellent job monitoring government activities, the money used for them, and whether a certain plan or activity will really serve the national and the people’s interests. It exposes corruption.
“The P2.606 trillion national budget for 2015 might be mobilized in preparation for the 2016 Elections, with practically half the budget estimated as lump sums and Automatic Appropriations,” Professor Briones said in a statement on behalf of SWP yesterday.
“This is similar to the 2012 budget that preceded the 2013 elections. The government cranks up spending for infrastructure and construction the year before elections. Concrete projects create the impression of growth, though it is a challenge to sustain this growth for the next years,” she said.
She explained: “In Philippine politics, elections are all about money. Government spending places incumbent politicians and their parties at an advantage over their opponents for the upcoming elections. Projects are credited to officials as part of their track record as the ruling parties would spend for projects in their allies’ jurisdictions. Opposing parties can be deprived of this spending, putting them at a disadvantage.”
Her statement also relates the spending with the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), with 2012 the height of DAP transactions, and lump sum appropriations. Lump sums are budget items that are not detailed, such as the Special Purpose Funds in the General Appropriations Act.
SWP’s assessment of the 2015 Budget reveals that practically almost half of it can be considered lump sum appropriations because of the lack of details and mechanisms for clear accountability. This makes the funds vulnerable to abuse.
“Only P1.739 trillion is covered by the GAA. The rest are Automatic Appropriations and therefore, not scrutinized by Congress. The President’s Special Purpose Fund is P378.603 billion, the Unprogrammed Expenditures is P123.056 billion, Internal Revenue Allotment is P389.860 billion, interest payments (debt servicing) is P372.863 billion. This does not include Malampaya Funds which are also automatically appropriated, and Off-Budget funds like the Motor Vehicles Users’ Charge and those coming from PAGCOR,” Prof. Briones further explained.
SWP advocates increasing allocations to specified agencies for social development, such as health, education and employment, instead of massive amounts in lump sums. Specifying which agencies will get the money for what planned and specified project and programs will make for greater transparency and ease in determining accountability. Agencies are required to make regular reports on their expenditures. How can the public or even the Commission on Audit trace the flow of money and examine if there are malfeasances if it is not known at the outset which government agency is involved?
“The presence of lump sums in the budget, especially for one that precedes the elections, makes public funds all the more vulnerable to abuse,” Prof. Briones said.
Budget Secretary Abad defended the budget from Prof. Briones’ doubts, saying it is a “rationalized budget” that addresses government priorities. He claimed that “it prioritizes the poorest and most vulnerable localities and tailor-fits interventions according to their specific needs.” He explained that the budget will be allocated to support inclusive development in areas which were identified based on budget priorities framework.
That’s a great lump of words. But if the budget does not spell out how much, for specifically what and where, and who does what, then corrupt government people can very easily divert funds elsewhere and make it virtually impossible to trace accountability for missing funds and undone or badly done projects.
We are sure the budget contains many lumps and opaque appropriations so that the funds can easily be used to help Liberal Party candidates in the 2016 elections.