Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Budget needs rearview mirror

MANILA-The 5,947-page national budget package may be as thick as an encyclopedia set, but it has one fault : It doesn’t tell what happened to funds appropriated in the previous national budget.

Senate President Pro-Tempore cited this weakness of the current budgeting system in pushing for “the installation of the rearview mirror on the national budget.”

Recto bewailed that despite the “fine print of nine budget documents”, nowhere is there a section which says that the projects and programs authorized in the past budget have been implemented or not.

“You can go through the almost 6,000 pages line by line but you won’t find anything which says that the projects lovingly enumerated in the previous year’s budget have been completed,” Recto said.

“Wade through the thicket of numbers and there’s nothing there which says if 61,510 teachers were indeed hired last year, if the plan to recruit 9,000 pushed through, if the roads catalogued in the DPWH budget were indeed built,” Recto said.

To cure this defect, Recto proposed a “new budget accountability” form which reports on the status of projects funded by the immediate General Appropriations Act.

He said this can be done by using the GAA format, “but it will now be returned to us with annotations showing line-by-line if the projects were indeed implemented.”

“If a line-item in the 2015 GAA says that P100 million is appropriated for this road in Cebu, then what we want is for the government to submit in 2016 the same GAA with a status report opposite the said line-item,” Recto said.

 “If the GAA authorizes the recruitment of, say, 10,000 new policemen and 50,000 new teachers, then what we want is for the executive to later indicate in that GAA a note stating the actual number of policemen and teachers hired,” he added.

Recto said his proposal is easy to implement. “We are not reinventing the wheel or imposing a new administrative budget.”

“We are not even creating a new book. Just the old GAA, but this time, there’s a note opposite line-item indicating if it’s completed, still under construction, or the funds have been impounded,” he said.

“Formatting wise, hindi mahirap, kasi sabi nga nila isang Excel column lang ang idadagdag,” he said.

“Ang status na gusto natin ay hindi kilometric ang haba. One-liner lang or one brief sentence pwede na. Pag tapos na ang isang project, eh di sulatan nila ng “implemented”.

Recto asked the executive branch to embrace his idea as it would lead to more transparent budgeting.

His proposal, Recto said, will lead to the disaggregation of multi-billion lump-sum funds.

“Kung halimbawa block fund ang Calamity Fund, sa proposal ko itemized na sa post-budget reporting kung saan ito napunta,” Recto explained.

Recto lamented that at present it is impossible for taxpayers to check if a specific project authorized in the GAA has indeed been implemented.

He blamed the “data vacuum” in the “budget accountability phase” to the discontinuation of the same format used from budget preparation to budget authorization to budget execution.

“The National Expenditure Program evolves into the General Appropriations Bill and the latter morphs into the GAA which in turn is used as budget release document,” Recto said.

“But what is supposed to be the seamless progression of using one reference format stops at post-implementation because there is no way we will be able to know if a project has been implemented.”

He said this can be solved by using the same GAA as report card of fund utilization.

“The annotated GAA can be one easy-to-read document which show where the money went,” he said. 

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