Senator Chiz Escudero said the Senate will scrutinize the details of the proposed P3.002-trillion national budget for 2016 – the final spending program under the Aquino administration – and ensure that lawmakers pass a reasonable and responsible budget on time.
More importantly, Escudero said, the Senate will review the administration’s proposed spending package thoroughly to address the problem of underspending, which has been interfering with the economy’s ability to reach its full potential in recent years.
“This is the administration’s last hurrah against underspending. We’ll be asking them how they can win in the final round,” said Escudero, who chairs the Senate Committee on Finance.
He added: “Nagkukumahog ang Congress na ipasa ito ng madalian pero pagdating sa implementation bumabagal naman dahil sa dami ng spending humps. It is useless to appropriate huge sums on time when these are spent slowly.”
In explaining the budget process, Escudero likened Congress’ role to the kitchen that prepares the food and the Executive branch, the waiters. “The problem is that the food is being served slow. Ang dami tuloy putahe na napapanis. The customers are hungry. And we, the cooks, are frustrated.”
According to Escudero, it is not good for the government to underspend because it deprives citizens of essential public goods and services they rightly deserve such as improved education, better health care, and more roads and bridges.
The budget, he said, “is the government’s contract with the people that the taxes they had paid promptly will be returned to them through the budget in a very prompt manner also.”
Because of this, Escudero said the review of next year’s spending proposal “will not just dwell on the future spending but on how current projects are being implemented.”
He said the problem of underspending was largely due to the low absorptive capacity of state agencies.
“Isang maaring itanong sa mga agencies ay baka naman you’re asking more than you can chew. I think that’s one of the reasons for the budgetary indigestion. Ordering more or being given more than what it can process. Mahina ang absorptive capacity,“ Escudero said.
Escudero issued the call placing underspending the focus of the upcoming budget review after President Aquino approved a P3.002-trillion budget proposal for 2016, up 15 percent from this year’s P2.603 trillion.
Below-program-spending has hounded the administration’s budget execution in the past five years. The national government spent P504.05 billion during the period ending March, which was P78.1 billion, or 13 percent short of the P582.2 billion target. Last year, underspending was pegged at P303 billion, or 13 percent of the appropriations for 2104. In 2011, the expenditure program was set at P1.711 trillion, but actual spending was P1.557 billion, or an underspending of P154 billion.
Underspending also tapered down to P62 billion based on actual disbursements of P1.778 trillion in 2012. The budget that year was P1.84 trillion.
Out of the P1.984 trillion budget in 2013, only P1.88 trillion was utilized, resulting in underspending of P104 billion.
In 2014, among the unreleased appropriations were the P2.2 billion intended for the Department of Education; P26.3 billion for the Department of Public Works and Highways; P2.6 billion for the Department of Agriculture; P5.8 billion for the Department of Agrarian Reform; and P 1.9 billion for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
Escudero said he will propose schemes that will speed up disbursement.
“This should begin by itemizing lump sums. Doon kasi tumatagal sa pag-identify ng projects sa mga pondong binibigay in bulk. But if it’s detailed and broken down right from get-go, wala ng delays sa pag-flesh out ng mga ito,” he said.
“The proposal to limit the validity of appropriations to one year should likewise be revisited. The ‘if you don’t use it, you lose it’ rule will discourage slow implementation. Dapat may mas maikling expiry date kasi kung mahaba sasabihin ng ahensya ‘saka na, may bukas pa,”’ he said. /MP