P-Noy starts the New Year by putting his money where he promised
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2011-01-02
The signing of the 2011 National Budget in Malacañang last December 27 is a great way for President Noynoy Aquino III (P-Noy) to start 2011 on the right note. In a way, the 2011 Reform Budget is P-Noy’s way of putting his money where he promised during the 2010 presidential campaign.

The signing of the 2011 National Budget in 2010 is a measure of the P-Noy administration’s determination and political will. The last we had such a feat was in 1999. It is also a good sign for the country that both Houses of Congress heeded the national clamor for reform.

DBM (Department of Budget and Management) Secretary Butch Abad outlined the highlights of the 2011 Reform Budget, as follows:

The P1.645-trillion national budget was anchored on key basic governance principles:

• First, implementing the zero-based budgeting approach to eliminate inefficiencies, ineffectiveness and leakages, and to prioritize activities with impact;

• An unabashed bias for the poor and the vulnerable in the allocation of funds, through a budget focused on delivering immediate, direct and substantial services to the poor;

• Engaging in public-private partnerships to augment the national government’s spending for infrastructure, and as a creative means to create economic opportunity;

• Instituting fiscal responsibility to take us out of the lethal cycle of debt, through the prudent management of our resources considering the present macro-economic realities;
• Instituting transparency and accountability, to make the programs and projects — and the government — productive and relevant to our people;

Zero-based budgeting

Through the zero-based budgeting (ZBB) approach, the government was able to:

a. Terminate or cut programs which have been inefficient in delivering outcomes, or to hold funding for some programs pending reforms in implementation and procurement;

b. Pursue difficult GOCC (Government Controlled Corporation) reforms, and even to consider the deactivation of agencies and GOCCs;

c. Reform and tighten the use of lump sum funds which is in line with the government’s commitment to do away with lump sums in the 2012 budget;

d. Expand well-performing programs that are addressing critical gaps.

Bias for the poor and vulnerable

Social Services have been allotted with the lion’s share of 34.1 percent, receiving a 16.8 percent increase which is highest among sectors. This is a concrete, direct and substantial way of making the dividends of good governance benefit the poor.

The budget of the DSWD increased by 123 percent to P34.4 billion, primarily because of the expanded CCT (Conditional Cash Transfer) program which targets 2.3 million households by end-2011. The government invites civil society organizations to participate very actively in monitoring and oversight, in reporting political interferences in the program.

On basic education, the DepEd receives an increase of P32.3 billion, the largest it has had in over a decade. There is funding for the construction of 18,169 more classrooms, over 10,000 more teaching positions, 32.3 million quality textbooks, among others. P1 billion was placed for the gospel program to meet the shortages in teachers, classrooms and textbooks; and at the same time, the viability of private schools.

Funding for the Health Facilities Enhancement Program was doubled to P7.14 billion, to upgrade rural health facilities. The immunization program was expanded to P2.46 billion, to benefit 2.5 million children as well as almost one million senior citizens. The coverage of the National Health Insurance Program has also been expanded not only to cover 4.6 million households, but on top of that, 1.5 million of what is called the informal sector.

Other socio-economic priorities that were funded amply included health insurance, housing and land distribution, repair of key infrastructure, climate change adaptation, among others.

Public-private partnerships and fiscal responsibility

To push economic growth despite tightness of funds, the government decided to create the necessary space to encourage private investments in infrastructure projects, and create livelihood opportunities via public-private partnership (PPP).

To support this thrust, P12.5 billion was allocated for PPP strategic support projects such as right-of-way purchases, horizontal land development and others needed for private money to come in. Provisions for feasibility studies and project preparation support have also been provided for to the tune of P300 million.

Transparency and accountability

The 2011 Reform Budget and the future budget to come will mark the start of integrating transparency and accountability in the budget. The desired reforms are not only found in investments in strategic programs to restore public trust but also in the allocation of resources.

The department and agencies shall publish in their websites detailed information on the allocation, disbursement and status of programs and projects. (End of DBM synthesized outline)

By no means is the 2011 Reform Budget the be-all solution and end-all solution to our biggest problems. It is an important step in the right direction that will still require a lot of adjustments and fine tuning. For a poor country like ours, there will not be enough money to provide for all our most urgent and pressing needs. Offhand, we already noted the complaints emanating from the SUCs (State Universities and Colleges) and from the farmers, as verbalized by my good friend Ka Gerry Geronimo of Ating Alamin fame, pertaining to the loss of the seed subsidy.

During the Gloria Macapagal Arroyo regime, we were subjected to reenacted budgets where the Chief Executive was given too much spending discretion. Discretion, as we’ve experienced, is an open door to abuse, misuse and corruption, especially when wielded by dubious persons.

That P-Noy opted to start his administration with a Reform Budget in 2011 is most reassuring to the over 15 million 2010 voters who pinned their hopes on him to restore integrity and transparency in public service.

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