'2015 budget might be used for 2016 polls'

by Dharel Placido, ABS-CBNnews.com

Posted at Aug 01 2014 04:38 PM | Updated as of Aug 02 2014 12:38 AM

MANILA – Former National Treasurer Leonor Briones on Friday warned that the huge lump sums in the 2015 national budget might be used by the government to prepare for the 2016 elections.

"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," Briones said in a statement.

Briones, lead convenor of Social Watch Philippines, criticized the ''lump sum'' items in the proposed 2015 national budget. She said these items lack details and mechanisms for clear accountability and are vulnerable to abuse.

Briones explained that only P1.739 trillion of the proposed P2.606 trillion national budget is covered by the General Appropriations Act (GAA), while the rest are automatic appropriations ''and therefore, not scrutinized by Congress."

She said in the budget, there is a total of P501 billion lump sum items: P378.604 billion for the President's Special Purpose Fund, and P123.056 billion for unprogrammed expenditures.

Unprogrammed expenditures are only appropriated only if there are additional sources of revenue or excess of revenues over projected revenues, new loans, new loan proceeds and other new sources of revenue.

Briones said in the 2015 budget, Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) is P 389.860 billion, while interest payments (debt servicing) is P 372.863 billion.

''This does not include Malampaya Funds which is also automatically appropriated, and Off Budget funds like the Motor Vehicles Users' Charge and those coming from Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR)," Briones said.

"The presence of lump sums in the budget, especially for one that precedes the elections, makes public funds all the more vulnerable," she said.

Briones said incumbent politicians usually have an advantage against their opponents because ''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."

The former national treasurer believes it is better to infuse more funds to agencies for social development, rather than declare these as lump sums.

DAP-like system

In an interview with dzMM, Briones said President Benigno Aquino III is being given too much flexibility by Congress in controlling the lump sum funds.

Briones also slammed the government's attempt to alter the definition of ''savings'' in the budget, and revive a system similar to Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), parts of which were struck by the Supreme Court (SC) as unconstitutional.

The SC said it is unconstitutional to withdraw unobligated allotments from implementing agencies and declare them as savings prior to the end of the fiscal year, transfer funds between branches of the government, and fund activities not spelled out in the GAA.

Administration critics noted that in the proposed 2015 budget, the term ''savings'' was described, among others, as balances from ''non-commencement of the [program, activity, project] for which the appropriations is authorized within the first semester of FY 2015, unless the implementing agency shows that the P/A/P may still be undertaken or accomplished in FY 2015."

Briones believes this is the government's way to circumvent the SC ruling.

"Baguhin natin lahat ng libro... Parang that's a way of going around the decision of the SC. Ang mas masamang implikasyon niyan, gini-give up na naman ng Kongreso 'yung kanilang awtoridad na isinauli sa kanila na pinoprotektahan ng Korte Suprema,'' Briones said.