'Why borrow what we won't spend?' Lacson blasts budget bloat due to 'insertions', poor planning

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 13 2019 04:05 PM | Updated as of Nov 13 2019 04:22 PM

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MANILA - Sen. Panfilo Lacson criticized Wednesday "insertions" made by lawmakers in the national budget that result in unused appropriations due to lack of consultation with government agencies. 

Speaking to radio DZMM, Lacson said there is a disconnect between the needs of local governments and the national budget passed every year. 

He said local government units craft local development plans that are submitted to regional development councils for consolidation. However, only 25 percent of RDC recommendations are adapted by the national government in the budget every year, he noted. 

The senator said one problem that contributes to a bloated budget is when lawmakers push for insertions at the plenary without properly consulting the government agencies involved. 

This leads to a rise in unobligated and unreleased funds as agencies scramble to implement projects included in the General Appropriations Act. 

"Pagdating sa plenaryo, singitan nang singitan. Walang pagkokonsulta sa mga ahensiya, basta sisingit legislators so walang planning na involved dun," he said.

(When it comes to the plenary, lawmakers keep inserting, without consultation with agencies so there's no planning involved.)

"Nahihirapan 'yung mga ahensiya na ipatupad 'yung mga proyekto na hindi naman sa kanila galing 'yung pagpaplano at walang pagpaplano talaga."

(Agencies are finding it difficult to implement projects because the planning does not come from them. There's really no planning.)

In 2018, government agencies failed to use P257 billion worth of appropriations, according to a report by state auditors. Previously, unobligated and unreleased funds would reach up to P487 billion, Lacson added.

"If poor ang planning, definitely hindi magagamit," he said. "Kung hindi nagagamit, bakit popondohan pa natin?"

The Commission on Audit earlier cited the Department of Transportation and the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) - both at the helm of Build, Build, Build’s implementation - as the “worst performers when it comes to the capacity to disburse‬,” Senator Franklin Drilon said.

"It is indicating that the choosing of the projects were haphazardly done," he said.

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Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia has said the government plans to “trim” the program’s 75 infrastructure projects, “substituting with others more economically feasible and doable."

In the interview, Lacson backed Drilon's proposal to target specific projects based on government agencies' capacity to disburse. 

He also questioned the need to borrow P897 billion to cover a P677 billion budget deficit in 2018. "Bakit tayo mangungutang kung hindi naman natin gagamitin? Ang sound management policy kung gusto kong mag-invest negosyante ako, kung kailangan ko ng P100 million, bakit ako uutang ng P150 [million]? Ano, ibabangko​ ko lang 'yun or i-vault? Hindi magagamit," he said. 

"Ang sagot nila, kailangan i-build ang cash position dahil mababa ang interest rate kailangang samantalahin. Pero taon-taon, ganun ang nangyayari. Kung nagbi-build up ang cash position, bakit tayo utang nang utang?" 

He also questioned the proposed hike to the road users' tax, which was recently approved by a Lower House committee.

Under the measure, the lowest tiered vehicle could see its motor vehicle users' charge rise to P2,300 from P1,600. Motorcycles and tricycles will be exempted from fees.

"Kailangan ba natin additional taxes bukod pa dun sa leakages na lumabas kahapon?" Lacson said. 

(Do we need additional taxes aside from the leakages revealed yesterday?)

Lacson earlier said the country lost some P161 billion in tax revenue from imports from its big trading partners due to leakages in 2017.

"Yung export record nila mas mataas di hamak sa import record natin," he said. "Ibig sabihin, smuggling."

(Their export record shows higher number than our import record, which means smuggling.)

Camarines Sur Rep. Lray Villafuerte, meantime, said lawmakers do not have any discretion in the 2020 spending plan, denying Lacson's claim that the budget contains "pork" and "parked" funds.

"We cannot choose, we can only propose, and it has to be vetted by DPWH and development councils," he told ANC's Headstart.