Speaker’s call for transparency backed

THE chairman of the House committee on public accounts on Monday echoed Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano’s call for full transparency in the implementation of austerity measures imposed by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to raise funds for the war against coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19).

“While we support efforts to boost funding for the fight against the coronavirus disease, we want the public to be informed on what specific programs, activities and/or projects (PAPs) funded in this year’s national budget would be affected by cost-cutting,” said Anakalusugan party-list Rep. Mike Defensor, the panel chairman.

Defensor said the DBM and concerned agencies could come up with a consolidated list of affected PAPs and post them on their websites.

“That way, people will know if a funded program, activity or project would no longer be undertaken. At least, they would not expect it to materialize this year,” said Defensor.

He said he would support a move on the part of the DBM, the administration’s economic team and the inter-agency task force against COVID-19 to deny funding to any PAP the government can postpone and divert the money to the fight against the pandemic.

Last Wednesday, the DBM imposed a 35-percent reduction on “programmed appropriations” for this year and an additional 10 percent on certain non-essential expenses.

Non-essential expenditures like those for travel, seminars, representation or dining out and entertainment by officials and their guests, donations, and the hiring of consultants are part of the government’s maintenance and other operating expenses or MOOE, for which there is an allocation of P1.6 trillion in the 2020 budget.

Defensor said if the DBM would effect an across-the-board 10-percent cut in MOOE, the government could easily raise an additional P160 billion for the anti-Covid-19 fund.

“Some MOOE items could be scrapped altogether so the money could be used to fight the pandemic. For instance, we could forego bureaucrats’ travels this year, except those extremely necessary, and add the P19.4-billion allocation for those trips to funds intended to fight the coronavirus disease and help the affected sectors,” he said.

He said other MOOE items that could be scrapped or drastically reduced are training and scholarship, for which there is P32.9 billion in the budget; supplies and materials, P108.3 billion; representation, P5.2 billion. communication, P10.7 billion; hiring of consultants, P29 billion; advertising, P3 billion; subscription, P4.1 billion; donations, P41.8 billion; printing and publication, P1.9 billion; and membership dues and contributions to organizations, P2.4 billion.

“Why should we spend P41.8 billion for donations when our hospitals are begging for personal protective equipment (PPE) from private donors? We might as well spent that money for PPE items like face masks and shields, and protective suits, the lack of which is exposing our health workers to danger,” Defensor stressed. 

Instead of hiring consultants, the government could spend the P29 billion allocated for such purpose to grant additional benefits to doctors, nurses and other frontline workers, and to hire more health care personnel, he added.