Amid reports of underspending

 Senators to grill agencies on fund utilization

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph  Recto said  senators  would cross party lines in asking agencies  during the 2018 national budget hearings  if they are on track in spending their current year allocations to find out if  underspending still plagues budget utilization as it had in the past administration.

Officials of the Duterte administration have been quoted  as saying that the Aquino administration failed to spend or delayed the spending of an estimated  P1 trillion in appropriations, a charge which has been denied by the previous set of economic managers.

“Now that the shoe is on the other foot,  it is time to ask this question: Have you solved the problem you have accused your predecessors of doing?” Recto said.

“It’s a valid question because budget hearings are sessions where they’ll be asking for fund replenishment. So before we replenish, we should ask if they’ve been prompt in disbursing,” he said.

Recto said he was given a preliminary estimate that unreleased appropriations reached P185.8 billion in 2016, on top of unobligated allotments of P410.8 billion.

“Of these amounts, how much was due to the election ban on public works and other expenditures, and how much can be pinned on inefficiency, to transition, to lack of plans?” he said.

Recto said the agencies’ “fund absorptive capacity” would also impact on the Senate debates on the administration’s mixed bag of proposed tax cuts and increases.

“We will be looking at both ledgers. Income and spending. Bakit ka hihingi ng ganito kalaking bagong revenues kung hindi mo naman nagagasta?” Recto said.

Recto said examining “spending problem areas” would not only pinpoint “slow-moving” programs, but the “fat in the budget and in the bureaucracy as well.”

“Ito naman ang matagal na naming sinasabi sa kanila. Can we not cut the frivolous expenses first so that we can reduce the number of new taxes you are asking for?” he said.

“For example, if we can cut overhead, can we not trim the rates in the new taxes you are proposing? Halimbawa, the hotel industry earns billions from government seminars. Hindi ba pwede in-office na lang, hindi na sa beach resorts na mag-e-eroplano ka pa? Ano ang alternatives?” he said.

Recto said taxation should be the last recourse. “Can we attack the problems first from the appropriations side? It can be a joint exercise by the legislature and the executive.”

Recto said measuring the government’s “spending velocity” would lead to the discovery of bottlenecks in the implementation of projects.

“Procurement ba? Kung ganun, malalaman natin kung saan ang problema and the corresponding legislative or administrative remedies can be applied,” he said.

“Meron bang technical deficit, meaning the lack of qualified people with specialized skills to plan, procure and implement programs with engineering designs? If this is where the hiccups are, then how can we tweak personnel recruitment policies so we can hire skilled professionals?” Recto said.

“The bottomline is, how can we build, build, build, if we cannot bid, bid, bid?”

Among  the government’s infrastructure targets this year are the construction of 47,492 and repair of 20,000 classrooms, building of P38-billion worth of irrigation facilities, P29.030 billion allocated for Health Facilities Enhancement Program to finance the construction of 1,497 barangay health stations and the improvement of facilities of 353 hospitals, paving of the thousands of kilometers of road, and P1.179 billion worth of Department of Transportation capital outlays.

“It would be good to know if six months into  the year, how many of these projects have been completed, under construction, still in the procurement stage, or literally, in the drawing period,” he said.

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