Gov’t determined to avoid budget delay      

Published August 11, 2019, 12:44 AM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza & Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat

E CARTOON Aug 11, 2019The  government  is  determined to have the national budget for 2020 ready at the very start of the year.  Last Monday, only two weeks after the start of the new Congress last July 22, President    Duterte presided  over a Cabinet  meeting which approved the proposed national budget for next year.  It will be  submitted  to  the House of Representatives before August 21.

The  House should now have all the time it needs to scrutinize the national budget in accordance with its mandate in the Constitution that all revenue bills “shall originate exclusively in the House of Representatives,  but  the Senate  may propose  or concur with amendments” —  Article VI, Section 24. The Senate will be holding concurrent hearings on the budget to speed up the process.

Malacanang  announced that the proposed budget for 2020 is for P4.1 trillion, the biggest ever in the country’s history.  It  is 12 percent higher than the 2019 budget of P3.662 trillion.

The biggest slice of the budget is for education, in line with the constitutional  provision that “the state shall assign the highest budgetary priority to education….”  — Article XIV, Section 5 (5).  In addition to the increase in the number  of students in the country,  necessitating the building of more schoolrooms  and the hiring of more teachers,  the government  has  now expanded  free public education to include college courses in state universities and colleges. There is also need to raise the salaries of teachers, as promised  by  President  Duterte.

The next biggest slices of the national  budget  are  for public works  and  transportation,  as  the  government  pushes  forward  with its “Build, Build, Build” which has become the lead  economic development program  of  the government,  likely to be known as the hallmark  of the Duterte administration.

The early preparation of the national  budget is a move to avert last year’s disastrous late approval of the  2019 budget by three months.  That budget  should have been approved in December, 2018, ready for implementation on the first day of 2019, but disagreement between the House and the Senate over alleged “pork  barrel” insertions delayed its approval  only in April.

The delay meant so many public works projects could  not be started along with several  new spending programs. Pay increases could not be carried out. The entire national  economic program was set back with the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) going down to 5.6  percent growth in the first quarter of 2019, the  lowest  in four years.

The Executive Department is doing its part  by submitting the budget to Congress  early. Our congressmen  and  senators  must  hold up their end of the budget process  by holding  continuous hearings.  But the key to truly speedy approval will be avoiding  such actions as  including  lump sums  for projects without details, last-minute changes  in project amounts  and  sites,  and unduly  large  appropriations for some  legislative districts.

We have new congressmen and senators who may be more idealistic than their predecessors.  They should be able to make their presence  felt in this Congress.