Ex-Treasurer Briones raises issue of accountability in Bangsamoro block grant

Prof. Leonor Briones.

The P70-billion block grant that will be given to the new autonomous region in the Philippines during the first year of the implementation of the Bangsamoro Basic Law raises serious questions of accountability, former National Treasurer Leonor Briones said.

“The most problematic in terms of accountability is the block grant,” Briones, lead convenor of Social Watch Philippines, told a forum on the BBL at the University of the Philippines Thursday.

And citing the experiences of other countries, Briones said block grants are also "often complicated by political considerations.”

She said earlier accounting practices in other countries, which provided for separate audits of state and federal governments, resulted in different versions of accountability. In the United States, this was resolved by the Single Audit Act.

Block grants are generally for national programs that states need to implement and which require additional resources, such as health, anti-drug campaigns and education programs, and are not intended to fund a state, region or local government’s operations, Briones stressed.

"So far, in my researches I have not found a parallel case where the budget of a sub-national region is funded largely by a block grant or even an equalization transfer," she said.

She acknowledged that block grants generally account for only a small portion of inter-governmental transfers to states and local governments.

Section 15 of Article VIII of the BBL provides for a block grant "which shall be the share of the Bangsamoro in the national internal revenue of the government."

The planned Bangsamoro block grant is only comparable to the internal revenue allotment of local government units in the prospective autonomous region, a fact the government peace panel has emphasized. It will represent four percent in the national government’s share of the internal revenue allotment and will be subject to automatic appropriation. 

However, Briones noted that this will be automatically appropriated and will be the largest single source of revenue for the Bangsamoro.

Defenders of the block grant have described it as similar to the equalization grants for the indigenous peoples of Canada.

But Briones pointed out that Canada’s IPs "don't have their own state, parliament, bureaucracy and all the trappings of a sub-state. They are intrinsically part of the national system."

Aside from the block grant, the other sources of funds for the Bangsamoro government, as stated in the Annex on Revenue Generation and Wealth Sharing of the BBL, are as follows:

  • Taxes and revenue generation already devolved to the ARMM. In addition to this taxing powers, the Bangsamoro will also have the power to levy capital gains tax, documentary stamp tax, and estate tax, where all taxable elements are within the Bangsamoro.
  • The Bangsamoro will have the power to levy fees and charges.
  • The Bangsamoro may receive grants from donors, and such grants will be received by the entity directly.
  • The Bangsamoro will have the authority to contract loans, credits and other forms of indebtedness with any government or private bank and other lending institutions.

Government revenues will be shared by the national government and the Bangsamoro in the following manner:

  • 75% (Bangsamoro); 25% (national government) - national taxes, fees and charges collected by the national government within the Bangsamoro. These national taxes include income taxes, VAT and other percentage taxes, but exclude tariff and custom duties.
  • 100% of the revenues for non-metallic minerals will be for the Bangsamoro.
  • 75% (Bangsamoro); 25% (national government) for metallic minerals.
  • 50-50 sharing for fossil fuels (oil, natural gas, coal) and uranium.

Briones also maintained that the creation of a Bangsamoro Commission on Audit is not only unconstitutional but, from the point of view of sound fiscal management, also administratively.

The House of Representatives through Cagayan de Oro Representative Rufus Rodriguez, who chairs the ad hoc committee deliberating the proposed BBL, said this provision is one of eight up for deletion.

"Dual or parallel audits, in the experience of countries like the United States and Canada, are very problematic. Audits which are done by parallel audit systems can have different audit results," Briones noted.

Section 2 of Article VIII also provides that the vouchers of the Bangsamoro shall be submitted to the Bangsamoro Transition Council.

But Briones stressed that "the Constitution expressly provides that the audit of vouchers should repose (solely) in COA."

Briones acknowledged that the BBL seeks to provide full fiscal autonomy to the new entity but added: "What does fiscal autonomy mean? It means that a unit of national government is encouraged to generate is own income and spend it as it likes."

 "What the BBL provides for is partial fiscal autonomy. The Bangsamoro is allowed to budget as it wishes but much of the financing will come from the Filipino people," she said.

By: Lira Dalangin-Fernandez.

Source: Interaksyon.com.