26 January 2009

Can You Believe This Year's Budget?

Photo courtesy of kiato
With all these talks of implementing belt-tightening measures in anticipation of the economic slowdown this year, Congress again protected its own selfish interest when the bicameral conference committee approved this week the PhP 1.415-trillion General Appropriations Act for 2009. Under the budget, senators and congressmen will be receiving a total of PhP 9.665-billion pork barrel, euphemistically called the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).

The amount is actually higher by PhP 2 billion than what MalacaƱang Palace proposed for the PDAF. This means further bloating past pork barrel allocations which used to average PhP 200 million per senator and PhP 20 million per member of the House of Representatives. These are funds set aside for the favorite projects of lawmakers to be undertaken by their favorite contractors, who are expected to show their gratitude to their patrons in millions of ways.

Pork barrel finances the pet projects of legislators. It is believed to be a major source of kickbacks for lawmakers. But the legislators couldn't care less, especially with the national election just around the corner (2010). They want an increase in the amount that they could use to better their chances of securing a lucrative term-extension and they got it.

Aside from the legislators, Congress as an institution also got a hefty PhP 7.369-billion budget, PhP 443 million more from the initial recommendation of the House. The Office of the President got PhP 3.01 billion, which was PhP 28 million more than that in the House version. The Office of the Vice President got PhP 180.455 million while the judiciary was allocated PhP 12.68 billion. The unprogrammed fund amounted to PhP 75.97 billion.

The debt interest payment was allocated PhP 252.55 billion. The initial amount set by the House bill was PhP 287.87 billion, but this was slashed by PhP 35.32 billion so that the amount cut could be allocated for the economic stimulus fund.

Among the line agencies, the Department of Education (DepEd) got the biggest share of the pie, with a PhP 158.21 billion budget. State universities and colleges got a separate PhP 22.829 billion and the DepEd School Building Program another PhP 2 billion.

The rest of the departments got the following:

  1. Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) — PhP 129.89 billion
  2. Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) — PhP 62.937 billion
  3. Department of National Defense (DND) — PhP 56.48 billion
  4. Department of Health (DOH) — PhP 27.876 billion
  5. Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) — PhP 25.002 billion
  6. Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) — PhP 12.598 billion
  7. Department of Finance (DOF) — PhP 12.587 billion
  8. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) — PhP 12.39 billion
  9. Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) — PhP 10.62 billion
  10. Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) — PhP 7.868 billion
  11. Department of Justice (DOJ) — PhP 7.06 billion
  12. Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) — PhP 7.01 billion
  13. Department of Science and Technology (DOST) — PhP 5.675 billion
  14. Department of Agriculture (DA) — PhP 3.615 billion
  15. Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) — PhP 2.925 billion
  16. Department of Tourism (DOT) — PhP 2.002 billion
  17. Department of Budget and Management (DBM) — PhP 821 million
  18. Department of Energy (DOE) — PhP 591 million
To add insult to injury, Congress delayed the approval of a measly PhP 56.1 billion fiscal stimulus package by six months after its need was first recognized. Considering that it is only 0.8 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP), Congress took their time and ensure that their need is address first before that of our country.

Moreover, the Commission on Audit (COA), which has been doing an admirable job exposing several irregularities, is set to lose PhP 100 million in its proposed budget for 2009. That shows you the importance lawmakers give to official auditing and public accountability.

With the looming financial difficulty ahead, the public is well-advised not to depend on Congress for answers to their problems. The very partisan-based approach to the budgeting process has been a lingering illness of this country for years now. This has to stop.

One way to do this is to develop a set of institutional arrangements for improving allocative efficiency through a system for establishing and updating strategic priorities over the medium-term. One example of this is the context of the Medium-Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) which seeks to link the budget to the Plan using the the government conducted Sectoral Effectiveness and Efficiency Review (SEER) to prioritize the activities of all government agencies and could even include Congress. Unfortunately, its short success in 2001-2002 was cut because of questionable reasons. Maybe it is time to bring it back.