POSTSCRIPT / November 30, 2014 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Opinion Columnist

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Recto: 2015 budget lacks rearview mirror

REARVIEW NEEDED: What ever happened to the sound suggestion that the P2.606-trillion national budget for 2015 be equipped with a “rearview mirror” to show the following year how the funds appropriated this year were used?

Seeing how inept and corrupt officials trifle with public funds, one cannot help suspecting there is a conspiracy between the Executive and the Legislative departments to hide how public funds are spent against the intentions spelled out in the budget law.

The information vacuum in the budget looks like a premeditated stratagem to blur or escape accountability.

In his sponsorship of the budget bill last Nov. 18, Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto noted that while the 5,947-page budget package was as thick as an encyclopedia set, it did not have a section reporting the status of projects and programs authorized in the previous budget.

Recto said: “Wade through the thicket of numbers and there’s nothing there which says if 61,510 teachers were indeed hired, if the plan to recruit 9,000 policemen (only 6,642 positions were filled up) pushed through, if the roads catalogued in the DPWH budget were built.”

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ACCOUNTABILITY: To cure this, Recto proposed a “new budget accountability” form reporting the status of projects funded by the last General Appropriations Act.

He said this can be done using the GAA format, “but it will now be returned to us with annotations showing line-by-line if the projects were indeed implemented.”

He explained: “If a line-item in the 2015 GAA says that P100 million is appropriated for this road in Cebu, then what we want is for the government to submit in 2016 the same GAA with a status report opposite the said line-item.

“If the GAA authorizes the recruitment of, say, 10,000 new policemen and 50,000 new teachers, then what we want is for the Executive to later indicate in that GAA a note stating the actual number of policemen and teachers hired.

“Formatting wise, hindi mahirap, kasi isang Excel column lang ang idadagdag. Ang status na gusto natin ay hindi kilometric. One-liner lang or one brief sentence pwede na. Pag tapos na ang isang project, eh di sulatan nila ng ‘implemented’”.

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FORCED SAVINGS: Recto did not say it, but precisely nga, some sticky fingers in government purposely force savings, later to be impounded by them and realigned to their intended pork barrel or election campaign spending.

To justify the diversion of forced savings, the term “savings” — which the Supreme Court said may be realized only at the end of the fiscal year – will be redefined in the 2015 budget law to legalize impounding funds in the middle of the year.

Another tricky item and a source of corruption is the insertion of lump funds in the budget. Defenders of this ruse said that nobody can predict and itemize expenditures for, say, calamities.

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FORBIDDING FOREST: Recto said his “rearview” proposal will lead to the unbundling of multi-billion-peso lump sums. He explained: “Kung halimbawa block fund ang Calamity Fund, sa proposal ko itemizedna sa post-budget reporting kung saan ito napunta.”

At present it is difficult, if not impossible, for taxpayers to check if a specific project authorized in the GAA has been implemented. That could be the idea behind making the budget law look to the layman like a forbidding forest.

Has Recto’s “rearview” idea prominently discussed in his sponsorship speech been ignored by his colleagues or did he withdraw it? Maybe the Batangueño senator can tell the people.

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CHEAP & POTABLE: Metro Manila residents may be surprised to learn that tap water in the Clark Freeport in Pampanga is not only potable – or drinkable straight from the faucet – but costs much less (P22.69 vs P27.75 per cubic meter) than the piped-in water in the national capital.

To improve this clear value of its water, Clark Water Corp. has earmarked some P4 billion for its capital expenditures up to 2040 for the diversification of its water sources; upgrading of its water treatment facilities and delivery network within Clark.

More than P1 billion of the capex allocation will be pumped into projects that CWC has lined up in the next four years, company officials said in last Friday’s forum of the Capampangan in Media Inc. (CAMI) at the Bale Balita (House of News) inside the Freeport.

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CAPEX PROJECTS: Jesus Laigo, CWC general manager, said Clark Water sunk in P200 million this year in capex projects that include the drilling of additional wells and improving its piping or delivery network.

He added that next year’s P300-million capex will cover the construction of new water treatment facilities, storage tanks and booster facilities, including the commissioning of new water sources.

Clark Water, now solely dependent on the water table for its source, is moving to tap surface water sources, including the Marimla and Sacobia rivers, to meet the projected rise in water demand in its concession area.

Feasibility studies on the sourcing of water from the rivers will be completed next year and “we’re expecting positive results,” Laigo said in the forum co-sponsored by Clark Development Corp. and the Social Security System.

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LOOKING UP: Clark Water, a subsidiary of Manila Water Co. Inc., is also upgrading its wastewater treatment plant to encourage commercial clients, such as golf courses, to use treated water in some areas of their operations.

Three new wells are scheduled to start operating next year, which should further buttress CWC’s reliability as water supplier in the Freeport.

Current extraction rate stands at 35 million liters per day, two million liters more than the daily demand of 33 million liters. The estimated usable water table reserve in the area is placed at 175,000 cubic meters per day.

Business has been good for the water firm. The P80-million net income it realized last year is forecast to rise this year to P83 million, according to Laigo.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 30, 2014)

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