Social Watch Philippines and the Alternative Budget Initiative scrutinize the 2014 Budget

This year Social Watch Philippines and the Alternative Budget Initiative or ABI will particularly scrutinize the Priority Development Assistance Fund or “pork barrel” and the transfers and allocations for the government’s Special Purpose Funds. Department allocations will also be assessed by the Initiative, particularly the allocations for health, education, agriculture, social welfare and the environment.

It’s that time of the year again when Congress debates and finalizes the National Budget for 2014. Budget hearings, pork barrels, agency allocations and special purpose funds will be, or should be, buzzwords in media for the next few months.

SWP advocates people’s participation in public finance and people’s empowerment in the budget process. After the release of the administration’s proposed national budget for the coming year, the ABI will be submitting an alternative budget vis-a-vis the president’s to be discussed in Congress.

“If congressmen have a pork barrel, then the President has a“beef barrel” according to former congressman Edcel Lagman. This is because of the Special Purpose Funds. This [SPF] is under the Department of Budget and Management but funds can only be released with the President’s signature,” said Prof. Emeritus Leonor Magtolis Briones, Social Watch Philippines’ Lead Convenor.

“We urge DBM to submit the quarterly reports of the SPFs to the Appropriation’s Committee of the House and the Finance Committee of the Senate throughout the year. It’s required by the appropriations law. If they only submit reports at the end of the year, the transfers would already be done without scrutiny from the public. It will be already too late,” she continued.

SWP’s stand on the pork barrel and the SPFs is that they should be abolished and allocated directly to the government’s departments. This way, there should be more transparency and accountability in government,where the departments themselves will be held accountable for the management of their allocated funds.

“Less than half oft he ₱2.268-trillion of the budget is allocated to the government departments and offices. How much of the other half goes to SPFs or debt servicing? The pork barrel is being used by the Executive as a bargaining chip with the Congress so its submitted budget gets approved with less opposition,” Briones said.

“We should empower citizens to pay attention and ask where this money is going. It’s our money, after all,” she added.

The ABI of Social Watch Philippines engages legislators through presenting budget analyses of government spending as well as recommendations for alternative budget allocations for the next year. Its annual ABI “orange book” is published every year for legislators and citizens alike, which contains the initiative’s findings and recommendations.

The ABI’s brain pool is composed of experts and members of the academe from various fields. This includes public finance expert and former National Treasurer Leonor Magtolis Briones, who was awarded last June the title Professor Emeritus of the University of the Philippines’ National College of Public Administration and Governance.

Source: Social Watch Philippines