‘President, not Congress holds power of the purse’
Rhodina Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - August 16, 2014 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Congress’ vaunted “power of the purse” has diminished and now belongs to the President, former national treasurer Leonor Magtolis Briones said.

“This is evident in the 2015 proposed budget, due to the pervasiveness of lump sums, automatic appropriations and off-budget direct remittances. It cannot also be denied that the 2015 budget is an election budget,” Briones said in her analysis of the proposed 2015 national budget.

“Lump sums indicate an inherent vulnerability in the budget because of limited transparency and accountability in handling these funds,” said Briones, professor emeritus of the University of the Philippines and an expert on public finance and governance.

She added the executive department controls the majority of the budget, only giving Congress the power of the “coin purse.”

Briones, as lead convenor of Social Watch Philippines (SWP), said they calculated total expenditures for next year amount to P2.758 trillion, composed of P2.606 trillion in proposed appropriations, P123 billion in unprogrammed expenditures and P29 billion in off-budget accounts and direct remittances from the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. and Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office.

Out of the proposed expenditures of P2.758 trillion, Congress will only debate in detail P1.361 trillion of government agency budgets. From the P1.361 trillion, P761.231 billion are personnel expenditures, which is generally accepted by Congress as presented by the executive.

This leaves P599.769 billion for detailed congressional scrutiny.

The SWP pointed out that significant lump sums in the budget are the President’s Special Purpose Fund (SPF) of P378.603 billion.

“Commonly referred to as the President’s pork, these funds can only be released by the Department of Budget and Management with the approval of the President,” the SWP said.

Under the SPFs, it can be noted that there have also been significant increases in the allocations for local governments from P19.589 billion in 2014 to P33.131 billion in 2015.

Budgetary support to government corporations also increased from P46.255 billion to P61.319 billion. Miscellaneous personnel benefits fund increased dramatically from P53.53 billion to P118.142 billion.

“These can also be seen as indicative of 2015 as an election budget, where the government cranks up spending on infrastructure and visible projects to create the impression of growth. Ruling parties can use these projects to their advantage for re-election. However, the growth might be superficial as it would be very challenging to sustain the same levels of growth,” Briones said.  She pointed out that executive control is “apparent” in the proposed budget.

“After the budget is passed, executive power may even disregard Congress’ approved budget altogether. Congressman Ben Evardone of Eastern Samar submitted a bill that, if passed, would redefine savings and allow the executive to declare and pool ‘savings’ any time within the year,” Briones said.

Briones noted Budget Secretary Florencio Abad submitted a proposed bill to redefine savings and unprogrammed expenditures on Aug. 1.

 

BILLION BRIONES BUDGET BUDGET SECRETARY FLORENCIO ABAD CONGRESSMAN BEN EVARDONE OF EASTERN SAMAR DEPARTMENT OF BUDGET AND MANAGEMENT LEONOR MAGTOLIS BRIONES PHILIPPINE AMUSEMENT AND GAMING CORP PHILIPPINE CHARITY SWEEPSTAKES OFFICE SOCIAL WATCH PHILIPPINES
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