Convert non-essential expenses into funds vs COVID-19 -- Defensor

A House leader is urging President Rodrigo Duterte to cut non-essential expenses of some government offices and declare them as mandatory savings.

According to Chairman of the House Committee on Public Account and Anakalusugan party-list Rep. Mike Defensor the savings, at least 20 percent, can be used as funds in addressing the coronavirus disease or COVID-19.

“The tens of billions we can save by reducing unnecessary expenses can be used to fight the coronavirus disease or Covid-19,” Defensor said.

He said the President can impose savings under the Bayanihan to Heal As One law, which authorizes the Chief Executive to “reallocate and reprogram” funds in the P4.1-trillion 2020 national budget and use the money for combating Covid-19.

He said allocations for unnecessary spending the government “can forego at this time of public health emergency or even in normal times” are part of the P1.6-trillion appropriation for maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE) in the budget.

Among the non-essential MOOE items that could be cut and their corresponding appropriations are travel, P19.4 billion; training and scholarship, P32.9 billion; supplies and materials, P108.3 billion; and representation, or dining out and entertainment by officials and their guests, P5.2 billion.

Others that could be reduced are communication, P10.7 billion; hiring of consultants, P29 billion; advertising, P3 billion; subscription, P4.1 billion; and donations, P41.8 billion; printing and publication, P1.9 billion; and membership dues and contributions to organizations, P2.4 billion, Defensor, who is on home quarantine due to possible exposure to the coronavirus, said.

“These are programmed and budgeted expenses we clearly can scrimp on or do away with while we are battling this pandemic. We can use the money to buy badly needed personal protective equipment items for our frontline health workers or as subsidy to the poor who are forced to stay home,” he stressed.

Defensor pointed out that if President Duterte imposes just 10-percent mandatory savings across-the-board on MOOE items, up to P160 billion could be freed up immediately and used for the fight against Covid-19.

He added the government could also forego the purchase of new vehicles, for which there is P4.1 billion in the budget, construction of more buildings (P99 billion), the procurement of new furniture and fixtures (P603 million), and the acquisition of additional machinery and equipment, P67.9 billion.

The tens of billions that could be generated through forced savings would be in addition to the P275 billion the administration’s economic team has promised to raise from non-budget sources like dividends from state corporations for the war against the COVID-19.