Evaluating budgets

February 18, 2020

Budget evaluation and financial planning is a tedious human exercise; it can never be replaced with machines no matter how modern or state-of-the art the technology applied.

For one, the job entails judgment call – decisions which machines  are incapable of making.

Machines may be able to analyze and break down quantities; but making qualitative decisions are definitely not for them.

And while budget evaluation is also about numbers – pesos and percentages – assessing fiscal allocations entails qualitative analysis of their social, moral, environmental, and even strategic impact on the country.

And so we  agree with and support   lawmakers who called for a national evaluation policy that would ensure evidence-based budgeting for all government programs and the accountability of civil servants.

"Clearly there has been limited attention, budgetary support, provision of personnel for monitoring and evaluation and only lip service has been given all these years to M&E," Sen. Imee Marcos, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Economic Affairs, said at the National Evaluation Policy Forum in the Senate.

Marcos  noted that the National Economic and Development Authority  and the Philippine Institute of Development Studies, which conduct monitoring and evaluation, are understaffed with only 12 research fellows keeping an eye on a budget of over 4 trillion pesos. Evaluation in particular should be more comprehensive and better financed, she added.

"It is important that evaluation results be established as a requirement for the national budget or for any budgeting for that matter and that no fund releases can be made without monitoring and evaluation first," she said.

"Digital technology has made evaluation simpler so there is no excuse not to evaluate government projects and programs comprehensively and well," the lady lawmaker added.

Bills have been filed in the Senate (Senate Bill 788 by Sen. Risa Hontiveros) and House of Representatives (House Bill  3293 by Rep. Alfred Vargas) in an effort to put together a national evaluation policy. The NEP forum--the first in a series on crafting such policy--discussed evaluating the Department of Education's K to 12 Program.

Marcos said given K to 12's cost to the government and parents, it is imperative to at least determine the program's tangible results and accomplishments.

Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Basic Education, Arts and Culture, stressed that monitoring and evaluation are important to exert accountability.

"Accountability is very important for all of us, especially for civil servants," Gatchalian told the forum. "It's also very important to make sure that our schools deliver the goals that we need to deliver. We need to deliver performance."