Avoid  the  delay that plagued  last year’s  budget

Published July 18, 2019, 12:12 AM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza & Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat

E CARTOON JUL 18, 2019The  dispute  over “pork barrel” was the reason the 2019 national budget bill was approved only in March, 2019, when it should have been  approved in December, 2018. Because of the  three-month delay, the government had to use a reenacted 2018 national budget, just so normal  government operations  could continue  and  government workers could get paid.

But new projects could not be implemented. These  included  many infrastructures under “Build, Build, Build” – roads and bridges, airports and seaports, school buildings and other  government  structures. As government  spending  accounts for a big part of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the national  GDP  sank in those first three months of  2019. We can only hope that  the  Department  of Public Works and Highways  (DPWH)  can make up in the rest of the year for  those  three months of inaction.

Incoming Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano hopes to  avoid  the 2018 House-Senate conflict  that caused  the budget delay.  The House and Senate, he said,  must be able to clearly define  what  is “pork barrel” which  the Supreme Court  banned  in 2014 and agree on a national budget  on time, that is, before the start of 2020.

Once  the national budget is approved by Congress and signed by the President, according to the Supreme Court, lawmakers cannot  intervene or  participate in  the implementation  of  any project listed in the  budget. This is to  avoid  the  old practice of lawmakers getting  huge commissions  — 20 percent or even more – from public works contractors chosen to carry out  the projects.

In the delayed 2019  national  budget,  some  P75 billion  had been appropriated for projects  in specific districts, placed in the bill by the congressmen of  those districts. Senators sought to remove these items, claiming they  were  “pork barrel.”  Finally,  after three months of disagreement,  the disputed budget  was approved and sent to President  Duterte  for his signature.  He simply vetoed the P76-billion  projects.

There is indeed need to avoid the  huge  allocations  that some congressmen in the past managed  to include in the national budget but, surely,  there are worthy projects that some congressmen seek for their districts. It could be just a matter of definition, of clarification, between the senators and congressmen.

Incoming  Speaker  Cayetano  has raised  the problem  early in the hope, which we all share, that  this old “pork  barrel” issue will not delay the national budget – with all its unwanted consequences – as it did last year.