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Claim to flame

The guys down here in my barangay knew that, as its claim to fame, the Aquino (Part II) administration deserved to win the highest international awards for best performance in tooting its own horn.

But recent claims of the Cabinet of our leader Benigno Simeon, aka BS, regarding the problem of government underspending, could easily elevate this administration to a special category in the field of cockiness.

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For what did those wretched risk takers in the private sector, who noted the alarming increase in government “underspending” that even became the major issue in many investment conferences here and abroad, get from the boys of our dear leader, BS?

They received the usual worn-out excuses for the underspending issue.

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It was as if, to the Aquino (Part II) administration, the underspending problem was almost desirable.

By the way, while they were busy rationalizing the underspending problem, claiming “reforms” as the root of the problem, they also chipped in some blame throwing flames.

What about some actual solutions, boss!

Last year, even with a record budget of P2.3 billion, the administration posted a record underspending of P300 billion.

The boys of our dear leader, BS, had promised that the problem would never happen again, yet the administration forgot to spend in the first quarter some P80 billion in allocated funds.

Already showing bad signs during the period were critical economic indicators–the decline in exports, manufacturing output and foreign direct investments.

The business sector thus pushed for action by the administration on the underspending problem, willing the administration to boost the economy by pursuing government programs laid down in the 2015 budget.

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In a meeting last week, Cabinet members declared that the culprit behind the underspending problem was the Government Procurement Reform Act of 2003, or RA 9184.

The law was enacted by the Congress during the cute administration of Gloriaetta. To the Aquino (Part II) administration, of course, it should be the work of the devil.

The law was initiated by the administration of former President Joseph Estrada, particularly by UP Economics professor Benjamin Diokno, who was the budget secretary then and who could easily be voted as the best budget secretary this country ever had.

At that time, it was estimated that some P22 billion in the government procurement process was lost to corruption every year. The law tried to address the lack of transparency in the process and promote competition among the bidders.

Lo and behold, the boys of our leader, BS, declared that the reason for the underspending problem was the very same law, calling it a hindrance.

By the way, this was the law that reaped praises from multilateral institutions like the World Bank as a world-class legislation. And it was never a problem to the previous administration for seven years.

As if to justify the underspending problem, the Department of Budget and Management invented a brand new economic principle called “growing pains,” meaning, the economy grew so fast, that the government could not keep pace.

For instance, the DBM said the government used to build only 6,000 classrooms a year but under our leader, BS, it must build 40,000 classrooms a year to catch up. The last time I checked, however, we still had a severe shortage of classrooms, indicating that the administration was not successful in building 40,400 classrooms either!

Congress gave the administration a budget for classroom construction in 2015 of about P49 billion, P29 billion of which had been released.

Surprise, the released funds remained untouched some six months into 2015. “Growing pains” my…!

The underspending king in the administration is the DPWH boss, Secretary Rogelio Singson, who came out with press releases on how clean the DPWH under his watch has become, because the government saved truckloads of money in DPWH projects.

Just how the DPWH computed what Singson called “savings,” the press releases apparently forgot to mention. It insisted the savings were the result of the supposed reforms done by the administration as part of its “straight and narrow path” slogan.

From what I heard, before the Cabinet meeting last week, the DPWH had to cram on possible projects that Singson could present to our dear leader, BS. It seemed that Singson had called for a meeting with his undersecretaries to bug them to come up with instant projects.

The biggest justification for the government underspending was that the boys of our dear leader, BS, were only trying to curb corruption.

They were strict but they also wanted the strict procurement law, RA 9184, out of the way. Go figure!

Besides, the so-called reforms were hardly what one could say as the reason why the DOTC could not do anything about the bad service at the MRT light rail line on Edsa, which was tainted with corruption issues, thanks to the revelation of the Czech ambassador regarding the DOTC extortion of come-backing MRT contractor Inekon.

Instead of alibis and excuses, what the business sector is dying to hear from the boys in the Cabinet are “solutions” to the problem.

Underspending has been very much a part of this administration from the very beginning. The pathetic performance of the economy in its first full year in office in 2011, a mere 3-percent GDP growth rate, was already determined to have been due to—what else—underspending.

In the past five years, government “underspending” was estimated to have hit P500 billion, despite the P150 billion or so thrown here and there under the unlawful DAP.

But things like the MRT kept on breaking down, the roof in the Manila airport leaked, the seaports were still backward, roads remained bad if they existed at all, and public schools cried for much needed classrooms.

The business sector indicated that there should be a way for the administration to have spent P500 billion in the past four years on those things called infrastructure.

How about somebody up there exercising this thing called leadership, hammering down on the bureaucratic nails!

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TAGS: Aquino administration, Business, column, conrado banal, underspending
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