BRIDGES: Seeking new definition of savings


PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino III has already asked Congress to institutionalize two budgetary terms in the proposed 2015 national budget: to allow declaration of savings in the middle of the year as well as to impose a one-year validity of appropriations.

The President made the proposal as the executive branch seeks to “de-clog the budget implementation process” and enable agencies to implement their programs and projects as early as possible.

Under the 2015 national budget bill, the Aquino administration proposed a new definition of savings as “portions or balances of any programmed appropriations” that have not been released or obligated as a result of “discontinuance or abandonment of the program, activity or project (P/A/P) for justifiable causes, at a time during the validity of the appropriations.

Savings may also be declared for the funds of projects that have not started within the first semester of 2015 unless the implementing agency can show the project can still be implemented within the year.

The executive can also declare savings if there is “decreased cost resulting from improved efficiency” in the implementation of or completion of projects.

“Savings may likewise refer to available balances of appropriations arising from unused compensation and related costs pertaining to: unfilled, vacant or abolished positions; non-entitlement to allowance and benefits, and leaves of absences without pay,” the budget proposal read.

In the use of savings, the executive branch said priority must be given to the augmentation of the amounts set aside for payment of compensation, year-end bonus and cash gift, retirement gratuity, terminal leave benefits, old-age pension of veterans and other personnel benefits.

In the same 2015 budget bill, augmentation is now defined as the act of filling up a deficiency in any existing program of an agency from savings in other items of said agency’s appropriations.

A deficiency in a project may result from unforeseen modifications or adjustments in the project and re-assessment in the use, prioritization and/or distribution of resources.

The latest countermeasure of the executive branch was made after the Supreme Court struck down certain parts of the administration’s P144-billion Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) as unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court earlier ruled the executive branch erred in the declaration of savings in the middle of a fiscal period since it violated the definition of savings on the previous General Appropriations Act that it can only be utilized by the end of the year.

Now with this move to redefine savings in the 2015 national budget, is the administration actually moving to legalize the P144-billion Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP)?

It has been claimed that the provisions on savings under the 2015 budget proposal has been “custom-fit to legitimize DAP and allow its implementation in the future despite the declaration of unconstitutionality by the High Court.

Regardless of the paranoid interpretations of the President’s call, we should not discount the fact that the issue here is budgetary process — this is the big picture.

The government is simply conducting the budgetary process in a way that is responsive to the needs of the country and also responsive to the principles of accountability, transparency and openness.

That is the frame within which all of these considerations are being put in place.

And we should leave it at that./PN