Senate leaders welcomed on Tuesday President Duterte’s assurance about the billions of funds that the administration is spending to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Duterte, in his taped public address aired Tuesday morning, said he will hold himself responsible for all the COVID-19 funds being disbursed by the executive department and assured that every peso spent will be accounted for.
He also asked Congress to make sure that every disbursement is properly spent.
Senate President Vicente Sotto said this was a “good move”, saying he was the “first President to do that.”
Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said he also supports Duterte’s call for transparency and accountability.
“I fully support the move to constantly make sure that the funds are used for where they are intended to be used and to make sure that no hanky-panky takes place, meaning, no corruption,” Zubiri said in a message to reporters.
Meanwhile, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said that Duterte should also order government agencies to specifically disclose the “goods and services [they] delivered to the people.”
“’Spent’ is a broad term, and is often used to disguise delays in the delivery of government programs and projects. An agency can glowingly report that an allotment has been obligated, when what it really means is that it is just in the procurement phase,” Recto said in a separate statement.
“There is one litmus test in budget spending, and that is, what are meant to be procured for the people have been received by them. This delivery receipt is the most important,” he pointed out.
Recto cited as an example the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s earlier report that it has downloaded the bulk of its allocation for the social amelioration program, “but this hides the fact that the actual payout to beneficiaries has been hounded by delays.”
He said this could also apply to procurement of rice, personal protective equipment (PPEs) or medicines that might only end up in warehouses to rot or be destroyed instead of being distributed to beneficiaries.
“Artificial spending also happens when an agency transfers funds to another, thereby beating the spending clock, preventing it from being reverted to the Treasury and reporting the money as spent,” he also noted.
Recto said these could be considered as “window dressing”, that funds are actually not spent and were “merely parked” in another agency.
“This subverts the very essence of cash budgeting, which seeks to accelerate disbursement. This creates the illusion of money spent when what happened was the budgetary equivalent of passing the buck,” he said.
Last month, senators filed a resolution calling for a special audit of the government’s COVID-19 expenses before Congress deliberates on the 2021 national budget.
The appeal was following reports of overpricing in the procurement of PPEs and test kits from abroad.
Congress initially passed the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, which authorized the President to realign some P275-billion of funds in the executive department to address the coronavirus outbreak and its immediate impacts.
Just recently, both chambers ratified the Bayanihan 2, or the proposed Bayanihan to Recover as One Act, which allocates a P165.5-billion regular and standby appropriations to sustain the government’s COVID-19 response and recovery efforts.