With government, money matters

“When it is a question of money everybody is of the same religion.” — Voltaire
Two debates in our afflicted public sphere held our attention the other week and this week; and both involve the holy grail of the corrupt: Money.

By now most of us are familiar with how our current mandarins of government finance swiftly blocked the Federalism roadshow with a steamroller, a pison, of a question: how much will it cost?

Finance boss Carlos Dominquez says the cost of transitioning to Federalism is in the vicinity of P131 billion. This, aside from job losses and enormous risks to the country’s abilities to contract loans and pay debts. The costs are not loose change.

Anger over the perceived betrayal of the Federalism cause got the better of advocates, forcing one, Fr. Ranhilo Aquino, to not only demand for the heads of the mandarins but to also publicly doubt Mr. Duterte’s desire for Federalism.

In so many bitter words, Aquino all but shockingly confessed that for all his hard work, he felt duped, hoodwinked, or to use the derisive colloquial word the anti-Duterte use to taunt the President’s supporters in the wake of failed promises, na-duterte.

Nonetheless, the economic managers gained the support of wealthy businessmen and senators.

“Before we communicate what Federalism is, can we not first calculate what its costs will be? Every proposal has a cost. Scratch the surface of every provision of a bill and there is a price tag underneath. We are often told the benefits of a project, but not the price,” Sen. Ralph Recto says of the current mood of Federalism’s naysayers.

Will money problems finally do the trick of interring Federalism in the government archives? A looming possibility.

Meanwhile, money problems, too, or to be precise, how available government money gets spent, got our glib congressmen bonkers.

Our shallow congressmen last week suspended deliberations on the proposed P3.757 trillion budget for 2019 over objections of the administration’s push for the newfangled cash-based budgeting.

There is now an incredible suspense over the fate of the 2019 budget after the suspended hearings. If you are into that kind of melodrama of compliant legislature vs. strong executive, tune in.

Anyway, news reports describe cash-based budgeting as a system where government agencies have to spend their funds and implement their projects within the budget fiscal year, which starts January.

If the 2019 budget goes through, it means government agencies need to complete their contracts by the end of 2019, regardless of possible delays. Projects that are not “implementation-ready” will be removed from the proposed budget.

For the longest time, agencies’ budgets follow a two-year obligation-based budgeting, which disburses payments as obligations of commitments for projects that may not necessarily be delivered within the same year.

The 2018 budget, which is bigger than the 2019 proposed budget, is an obligation-based budget. It, however, has ample warnings it would be the last of its kind.

As to why there is a need for a cash-based system, Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno has this to say: “A cash-based budget instills greater fiscal discipline and prudent use of limited resources.”

“The one-year horizon of budget execution will push heads of government agencies to plan ahead, conduct early procurement and regular monitor implementation… agency performance (therefore) will be measured not on contracts awarded or obligated, but on the actual delivery of goods and services that will improve the lives of Filipinos,” he adds.
In short, if the new budgeting tack doesn’t go awry, next year promises a tight leash on government money.

What is there not to like here? What is there not to like about penalizing an indolent, clock-watching, plush-chaired bureaucrat whose only concern for projects are his chances for fattening his wallet?

The House suspension of budget hearings is obviously some sort of hostage-taking. But Budget boss Diokno isn’t backing down, unmistakably hinting the executive department didn’t want a deal with elected terrorists supposedly seeking more funds for the forthcoming elections.

If need be, Diokno warns, the executive department can live with a reenacted budget next year, triggering alarm bells among senators.

Meanwhile, our congressmen are hunkering down in their trenches as I write this. But they seem to be wavering.

Our congressmen, so far, are not exactly candid and forthcoming on why they are not happy with the cash-based system. So far, they are merely saying they are just confused and want back the old, familiar system.

A stance which makes us suspect that they are allergic about telling us exactly where our taxes are to go.

They seem to want us befuddled and forever wondering where our taxes went, particularly after government auditors a year or so later tell us this much so and so had been spent so far on nothing.

But then, maybe our worthy congressmen, with their exuberant ways of carelessly spending taxpayers’ money, want to buy time as they may have not yet figured out how to get around the new system.

Gaming a new system does take time before the dreaded pork barrel can be adroitly hidden from public scrutiny, doesn’t it?

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