Although the so-called “budget season” has officially ended in the Lower House upon the body’s approval of the 2016 budget two weeks ago, a congressman believes that Congress still has more work to do in ensuring that appropriated funds translate into concrete public services.
On Monday, Valenzuela City Congressman Win Gatchalian said that he is set to file a resolution in the House of Representatives directing the Committee on Appropriations to conduct an inquiry into the perennial government underspending.
“Under the current administration, underspending has become a roadblock which has hampered the government’s drive to foster inclusive growth through public spending on infrastructure projects and delivery of basic social services,” said Gatchalian.
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Based on the data from the Bureau of Treasury and the Department of Budget Management, the national government failed to spend P537.7 billion in appropriated funds from 2011-2014. From a period-low of P38.2 billion in 2012, government spending increased to a high of P286.4 billion in 2014. The latter figure represents 12.6-percent of the entire P2.265 trillion allocated in the 2014 General Appropriations Act.
“Every peso appropriated in the national budget represents a promise, made by the government to the people, to provide some sort of public service that will make a positive impact on their lives. Over the past four years, the national government has broken more than half-a-trillion of its promises to the people,” said Gatchalian.
Significantly, Gatchalian noted that underspending figures in 2014 essentially negated that year’s budget increase. Although the 2014 budget appropriated P262 billion more in funds compared to the 2013 budget, underspending eclipsed this figure by P24.4 billion.
During the first five months of 2015, the government recorded a surplus of P86.4 billion, a 915 percent increase compared to the same period last year.
Through this legislative inquiry, Gatchalian hopes that the legislative and executive branches will come together to identify and address institutional weaknesses that contribute to underspending, including bottlenecks in the disbursement process, limited absorptive capacities of government agencies, and coordination problems.
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“There might be a coordination problem between executive agencies, or maybe Congress needs to pass or amend certain laws to fix problems in the legal framework of the budget process and auxiliary processes. Either way, we need to bring everyone involved in the budget process to the table so that we can attack the problem from every angle possible,” said Gatchalian.
As a former mayor of Valenzuela City, Gatchalian has executive experience in managing a significant increase in available public funds. During his nine-year tenure as mayor, Valenzuela City experienced a 108 percent increase in city revenue, from P864 million in 2004 to P2.1 billion in 2012.
“When it comes to disbursement of public funds, there are two important factors to consider: transparency and efficiency. One factor does not have to suffer for the other. The key is to find the right balance between the two, ensuring that public funds are spent accountably but efficiently, ultimately translating into the delivery of concrete public goods and services. This is the essence of good governance,” said Gatchalian.
In 2010, Valenzuela City was named the Top 1 Best Governed Highly Urbanized City by the Department of Interior and Local Government. Two years later, the city was awarded the prestigious Galing Pook Award for innovations and excellence in local governance. (Aureli Sinsuat)