November signing for 2021 budget eyed

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    SPEAKER Alan Peter Cayetano wants lawmakers to expedite discussions on the proposed P4.5 trillion national budget for 2021 so President Duterte can sign it into law either by the end of November or the first week of December.

    Cayetano said the House leadership is hoping the President would be able to sign the new budget by the first week of December but would do its best to allow the Chief Executive to sign it into law as early as the last week of November so it could be implemented as early as possible as the country continues its battle against the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

    “I’m hoping we’ll be able to do it by the end of November so it will be in Malacañang by then. If we could do it, why not?” Cayetano told radio dzBB, even as he appealed to senators to consider his proposed deadline so that programs and services to be funded under the new budget can be immediately delivered to the public.

    He said the first four months of a fiscal year usually goes to budget preparation, bidding for project contractors and procurement which is done by March or April.

    “So, imagine ‘yung nasasayang na oras ng January, February, March (So imagine the time wasted in January, February, March),” he said.

    “Usually umaabot ng end of December or ng January bago maging batas ito – kasama na d’yan ‘yung signing and publication. Pero actually kapag ang budget ay napasa nang maaga, maraming proyekto dito ang maaari nang i-procure o i-bid out (Usually it reaches the end of December or January before it becomes a law, including signing and publication but actually, when the budget is passed early, more projects can be procured and bidded out),” Cayetano added.

    Cayetano said on-going budget deliberations in the House committee level should be finished before September 20 to give the plenary at least 10 days to deliberate on the proposed 2021 General Appropriations Act (GAA).

    The Speaker said the proposed budget will be transmitted to the Senate either by the end of September or by the end of the first week of October.

    ‘PORK-FREE’

    Cayetano said congressional deliberations will be transparent and will even be open for public participation to do away with any kind of “pork barrel” and the illegal “parking” of funds.

    In 2018, some lawmakers were reportedly behind the “parking” of big amounts of “pork” in the congressional districts, which were allegedly subsequently “offered” to other congressmen with little or no pork barrel allocations.

    In exchange, the congressmen are supposedly given leeway to choose the contractors for infrastructure projects in exchange for commissions.

    “Merong mga amendment na mangyayari. Sisiguraduhin lang natin na hindi siya pork barrel, at sisiguraduhin lang natin na hindi siya parked na pondo. (There will be amendments. We’ll make sure that it’s not pork barrel and that there will be no parked funds),” he said.

    He said the public can participate by monitoring the websites of both the House and the Department of Budget and Management and by expressing their concerns to their district representatives.

    Cayetano said the “new innovation” allows people’s organizations, the academe through the universities’ think-thanks and non-governmental organization to participate in the committee deliberations by sending their questions to the vice chairmen, who, in turn, will be the ones to articulate it during the discussions with resource persons.

    “Ngayon, si Tata Kanor, si Maria, si Juan dela Cruz, we will be using our email, our Facebook na puwede silang mag-send ng question at ‘yung magtatanong mismo para sa kanila ‘yung vice chairman na in-charge (Now, Tata Kanor, Maria and Juan dela Cruz will be using our email, our Facebook where they can ask questions and the vice chairman in-charge will be the one to ask it for them),” he said.

    Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate, who earlier likened the definition of savings under the 2021 budget to giving the President a blank check, said the DBM has to explain what happened to the savings from 2016 to 2019.

    He pointed out that the public only learned that a huge bulk of the COVID response fund came from the 2019 savings because government was obliged to report the sources of funding.

    “If there are savings in 2019, why did the DBM, then, omit the information on the overall savings in the budget books from 2016 – 2019? Is it not contrary to the government’s fiscal transparency? How much, therefore, were the overall savings in 2016? 2017? 2018? 2019?” he said.

    He noted that in 2016, there was a P318.9 billion discrepancy between actual expenditure and the approved budget; P34.6 billion in 2017; P235.3 billion in 2018; and 14.5 billion last year.

    Savings under the above new General Provisions (2021) of the National Budget may be declared by the President as savings in case of a state of national security.

    “What happens to the savings when there is no state of national emergency? What happened to the savings in the previous fiscal years?” Zarate said. “Essentially this gives a ‘blank cheque’ to Pres. Duterte and he can almost do what he wants with the budget without the benefit of congressional debate or intervention.”

    If this will be allowed by Congress, he said lawmakers will be relinquishing its power of the purse “and just watch on the sidelines while the President do as he pleases and wants on the GAA.”

    “It erases the concept of separation of powers as well as checks and balances,” said the militant lawmaker.