By CHINO S. LEYCO
The Duterte administration is planning to ask the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to exempt big-ticket infrastructure projects from the government spending ban during the campaign period. Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto M. Pernia said Monday the economic team will propose to President Rodrigo R. Duterte to ask the Comelec to exempt those infrastructure projects of national significance from the three-month election spending ban.
“One thing we can do is to ask for exemptions from Comelec from ban on spending after March, and I think agencies needing to get exemptions should be getting exemptions especially we pointed out the impact of the delayed passage of the budget,” Pernia told reporters in the briefing.
Pernia said the economic managers have agreed to formally submit to the President their proposal for a Comelec exemption during the February 4 Cabinet meeting.
But the NEDA chief said that their application for exemptions will only cover the national projects of the Duterte administration, and not local government projects.
According to Pernia, the idea is for all government implementing agencies, particularly the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) as well as the Department of Transportation (DOTr) to have a “common position” on spending ban exemptions to ensure all infrastructure projects are kept on track despite the delayed budget approval
Pernia added that exempting infrastructure spending from the Comelec ban is necessary to counter the negative effects of the delayed passage of the 2019 national budget on the country’s economy.
The ban exemptions would cover ongoing and new projects that need procurement, Pernia said.
Half-a-billion a day
The Comelec ban would last until the middle of June covering construction of public works and the release, disbursement, or expenditures of public funds.
Last Friday, Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III said the delay in the approval of the 2019 national budget is costing the government around half a billion a day that will “certainly” affect the economy in the first quarter.
“I just computed it. The budget delay cost the government P46 billion for the first quarter. In other words, we cannot spend P46 billion of what we planned to do,” Dominguez said.
For his part, Budget Secretary Benjamin E. Diokno said they would continue to oversee the budgetary operations of the national government, especially as it runs on a reenacted budget for presumably the first quarter of 2019.
“We will do what we can to minimize the damage to the Philippine economy, particularly public construction. You see, as early as the first working day of the year, we have come up with the guidelines for fund releases under the reenacted budget,” Diokno said.
“The sooner the 2019 GAA is passed, the better for the economy and the Filipino people. Ramping up our investments on infrastructure and social services will only be sustainable if the budget is authorized by Congress,” he added.
Pending the Congressional approval of the 2019 General Appropriations Bill, the national budget for fiscal year 2018 was deemed reenacted as mandated by Section 25 (7), Article VI of the Constitution. The reenacted budget will remain in force until such time that the GAB is passed into law by Congress.
Pending the approval of the 2019 GAA, national government agencies receiving allotment or notice of cash allocation from the Department of Budget and Management are authorized to obligate the amount corresponding to their actual requirements for the first quarter of 2019, but not exceeding certain percentages.