By Ben Rosario
Anticipating a longer battle against the COVID-19 pandemic, the chairman of the House committee on public accounts on Thursday (May 21) called for “deeper cuts” to the P4.1 trillion national budget for 2020 to further prop up the implementation of various government programs against the disease.
Anakalusugan Rep. Mike Defensor proposed a 30 percent reduction in expenditures for non-essential items during the year.
“Some of these expenditures we can altogether forego and use the money to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and help the poor and other affected sectors,” he said.
Defensor previously proposed a 20-percent cut in expenses, but the Department of Budget and Management only agreed to a meager 10 percent reduction, while slashing “programmed appropriations” by 35 percent.
Defensor said non-essential expenditures are part of the “maintenance and other operating expenses” or MOOE, for which P1.6 trillion is allocated in the 2020 budget.
“If the DBM can effect an across-the-board reduction of 30 percent, we can easily generate P480 billion for COVID-19 measures and SAP (social amelioration program) financial assistance to the poor,” he said.
He conceded that some MOOE items could not be slashed by 30 percent, but others could be cut substantially, while some could be scrapped.
He said among the non-essential MOOE items where substantial reductions could be made, and their corresponding appropriations are, travel, P19.4 billion; training and scholarship, P32.9 billion; supplies and materials, P108.3 billion; and representation, or dining out and entertainment by officials and their guests, P5.2 billion.
Others that could be reduced considerably are communication, P10.7 billion; hiring of consultants, P29 billion; advertising, P3 billion; subscriptions, P4.1 billion; donations, P41.8 billion; printing and publication, P1.9 billion; and membership dues and contributions to organizations, P2.4 billion, Defensor said.
“Why should the government spend almost P42 billion for donations when frontline health workers are still begging for personal protective equipment (PPE) items from private donors until now, five months after the coronavirus outbreak hit the country?” Defensor asked.
He said there are a lot of budgeted expenses the government could clearly do away with “during this time of pandemic.”
Defensor also said the government could also forego the purchase of new vehicles, for which there is P4.1 billion in the budget, construction of more buildings (P99 billion), procurement of new furniture and fixtures (P603 million), and the acquisition of additional machinery and equipment (P67.9 billion).
“We can make do with what we presently have while battling COVID-19. We should instead use the money to buy badly needed PPEs for our frontline health workers and as subsidy to the poor,” he said.