House to clarify definition of gov’t ‘savings’

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/25 August) — A lawmaker on Monday said the House of Representatives will set the definition of “savings” to prevent the executive department from abusing its powers in declaring unused funds for government projects that have been abandoned as savings.

In yesterday’s Kapehan sa Dabaw at SM City, Bayan Muna representative Carlos Isagani Zarate said Malacanang cannot just declare such funds as savings and use them for projects at their discretion without getting Congress’ approval.
Zarate said that even if the Disbursement Acceleration Program, called the “presidential pork barrel,” had been declared by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional, the administration was coming up with another “scheme”.

In budget deliberations held two weeks ago, he said he questioned Department of Budget and Management Secretary Butch Abad why he revived the definition of savings that allows the president to “declare a savings anytime, especially in the middle of the year.”

Under the new scheme, Zarate explained Malacanang can declare a budget not obligated by June 30, 2016 as savings and funnel it to other government projects.

He said under the proposed budget the president will receive a P400-million Special Purpose Fund, which is lower by P100 million than his 2014 lump sum.

Malacanang has given Congress until October 9 to pass the 2016 budget pegged at P3 trillion.

Next year’s proposed budget is the highest so far, Zarate said.

“We should not give the Executive Department wider latitude when to declare savings at anytime… that they can just simply call the funds of the abandoned project as savings and divert it to other purposes,” he said.

Even if many are dubious of the 2016 proposed budget, the politicians will find it difficult to siphon off budget to their campaign funds with “safety nets” in place, he said.

Zarate challenged the House leadership to see to it that the budget is passed without the intervention of the Malacanang.

He said the proposed allocation for the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) or the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) next year increased to P70 billion. The budget for this year is P64.73 billion.

The program started with P5 billion during the Arroyo administration.

The 4Ps had been riddled with controversies over allegations some politicians took credit for it to earn more votes.

In Davao Region, Department of Social Welfare and Development director Priscilla Razon appealed to politicians to get their hands off the 4Ps or in any programs of the agency.

“Our projects are non-political,” she clarified. (Antonio L. Colina IV/MindaNews)