DOF told: Explain where P1.8 trillion loans went

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    WHERE did the money go?

    The House committee on public accounts yesterday posed the question at the Department of Finance (DOF) as it ordered finance leaders to explain how the government spent the P1.86 trillion worth of loans from January to July this year and how much was spent for the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) response.

    “People are asking questions about the borrowings, particularly where the money was used and why did we have to borrow at the time each loan was incurred. For the sake of transparency, the DOF should account for the debt for the first seven months,” Anakalusugan party-list Rep. Michael Defensor said in a statement.

    While the government needs to borrow from foreign and domestic lenders to augment its pandemic response funds, Defensor said the DOF and the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) should explain where the money was spent so the people would know how much of the P1.86 trillion went to COVID-19 response measures, infrastructure, debt repayment, and for salaries.

    Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado last week reported that as of Aug. 28, the DBM had released a total of P389 billion for the government’s COVID-19 response.

    Of the P389 billion, P211 billion was used for the two waves of financial assistance to at least 18 million low-income families amounting to P5,000 to P8,000 per family under the We Heal as One law or Bayanihan I.

    Avisado said that of the amount disbursed, P266.53 billion came from discontinued projects, activities and programs (PAPs) in the 2019 and 2020 budgets, P102.06 from special purpose funds and P20.48 from regular agency appropriations.

    Defensor urged the DBM to specify what projects, activities and programs have been scrapped so the people do not have to second-guess the government.

    “They can post these in their website, indicating the particular PAP, its funding and location.

    If residents feel strongly that a discontinued PAP is still needed in their community, they could push for its funding in future budgets by communicating to lawmakers, their local officials and even directly to the DBM,” he said.

    He also asked the DBM to tell Congress and the public how much the government saved from continuing lockdowns since March, the longest quarantine restriction in the world.

    He said work-from-home instructions for most government workers should have meant savings in the billions in terms of use of electricity, water, telephone, internet, office supplies, vehicles, fuel, and other maintenance and operating expenses (MOOE) which has a P1.6 trillion budget under this year’s P4.1 trillion national budget.

    Defensor has earlier proposed that because of long lockdowns, the MOOE allocation be cut by at least 20 percent or P320 billion, and the money be used to augment COVID-19 response funds.