5,776

Move the money!

Of course, it is an orchestral act.

Economic managers must always calibrate and synchronize their policy maneuvers to achieve a coherent economic goals and outcomes.

This is the fastest way to achieve sound economic fundamental.

The size and speed of government spending is the key to the sustained economic overdrive based on infrastructure projects.

"You cannot address government's underspending by decreasing the budget," Senator Chiz Escudero told the country's economic managers at yesterday's budget briefing.

Slippages in infra work must be addressed to keep spending current and avoid cost escalations.

Escudero scored the cutting of the national budget for 2019 by P10 billion to P3.757 trillion from this year's spending package of P3.77 billion.

"This is the first time in history that the budget went down. And this is designed precisely to address underspending to immediately reach near-zero underspending? DPWH (Department of Public Works and Highways) went down by P100 billion next year, DoH (Department of Health) by almost P50 billion, DepEd (Department of Education) by almost P70 billion," the Bicolano lawmaker pointed out.

He further asked: "Where did the differences go? Did it go to personal services? Did it go to the free tertiary education that we passed? Where did it go? We just want to know where?"

Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno explained to the Senate panel that "it is just an illusion that we have cut and reduced the budget but we have reformed the system. We only give them one year to obligate. So there's just an illusion, halimbawa binigyan ko kayo ng P200 billion for one project, ang magagawa mo lang naman dun ay to obligate, nothing constructed by December of next year pa. So binago naming talaga ang sistema. What you can do this year, you have to obligate this year."

Diokno added that the budget for next year had actually been reformed through the cash-based appropriation system which gives authority to make cash payments to what they can only spend over a limited time.

According to Escudero, slashing the budget in order to address the low absorptive capacity of government agencies is a waste of fiscal space and defeats the essence of the administration's "Build, build, build" program.

"It's an illusion, too, to say that underspending went down because we allocated less money to them. You are not helping the agencies to increase their capability to implement bigger and larger projects which government can provide fiscal space for," Escudero said.

The senator added that he would have rather kept the level of infrastructure spending and improve somewhere along the way how they can best utilize the money.

"Let the money be allocated to faster moving projects that can be finished in a year or give the money to local government units. Budget is always needed there and it will be used up for sure," Escudero said.

‘’Our economic team must address the real chokepoints in infrastructure programs like lack of construction workforce, availability of aggregates, and delay in the bidding process. Cutting the budget won't cut it, it only creates an illusion of efficiency," he added.