Belmonte proposes new committee to scrutinize gov't spending
MANILA, Philippines – As the 16th Congress opened its 2nd regular session in the wake of controversies over the administration's spending program, Speaker Feliciano "Sonny" Belmonte Jr on Monday, July 28, asked lawmakers to exercise their oversight functions over how government agencies spend their budget.
In his speech ahead of President Benigno Aquino III's 5th State of the Nation Address (SONA), Belmonte said House members must set a year-round oversight agenda that charts "beyond budget deliberations."
Belmonte proposed the creation of a House Public Accounts and Audit Committee that will scrutinize the budget of "all national government agencies, local government units, government-owned and controlled corporations, and other government instrumentalities."
"I have reviewed a number of COA (Commission on Audit) reports, and there are two things that strike me: First, there are a large number of audit recommendations that are not implemented, or are only partially implemented. Second, a significant number of audit reports result only in qualified or disclaimer opinions," Belmonte said.
"These indicate possible misuse of public funds and inefficient public spending. This should concern us, as representatives of the people, since we gave government the authority to collect tax money from them whom we swore to serve," he added.
Congress opened its session weeks after the Supreme Court declared 3 specific acts under the administration-backed Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) as unconstitutional.
The decision triggered two valid impeachment complaints against President Benigno Aquino III over DAP, and another one over a military deal between the Philippines and the United States.
Some lawmakers backed Belmonte's proposal to strengthen the oversight functions of the legislative branch.
SB urges congress to do year-round oversight duty to avoid wastage of govt funds. Public accounts oversight committee being proposed.— Teddy B. Baguilat (@Teddy_Baguilat) July 28, 2014
Oversight function, really, one of the more underutilized but most impt duty of Congress. With SB on his plan to strengthen oversight.— Teddy B. Baguilat (@Teddy_Baguilat) July 28, 2014
Others, however, said Congress might not be in the position to scrutinize the budget of other agencies since it was also a recipient of the controversial DAP. Congress is also still reeling from public furor over the multi-billion-peso Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) scam.
"It is a very good suggestion coming from the Speaker. However, I think there would be a resistance. I understand the LGUs will be included. They could say that 'our Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) comes from public funding; the House does not provided specific funding for us," Cavite 4th district Representative Elpidio Barzaga Jr said.
"There's also a credibility factor. Even if we have the best intentions, people would be saying that it is just propaganda in the spirit of accountability and transparency. People would not believe that we would be doing our job very well, especially since we are recipients of DAP and PDAF. Normally the investigator must be impartial, must have a clean record in order for their findings to be credible. Those are basic requirements. Unfortunately, we don't have that," Barzaga said.
The executive branch is set to submit to Congress the proposed 2015 national budget on Wednesday, July 30.
Belmonte endorsed his priority bills to the House with two years left before the 16th Congress comes to a close. These include:
- Anti-political dynasty bill
- Freedom of information bill
- Rationalization of Fiscal Incentives Act and the Tax Incentives Management And Transparency Act
- National Competition Policy
- Amendments to Build Operate Transfer Law, the Cabotage Law, and the Electric Power Industry Reform Act or EPIRA
Belmonte also gave assurances that the House will pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law, a product of the final peace agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) that seeks to create a new autonomous government in Mindanao, one it is transmitted to Congress.
The drafting of the proposed law reached a roadblock after the MILF accused the government of "heavily" diluting the measure as Malacañang continued to insist that the bill must be constitutional. (READ: MILF still unhappy with status of draft law)
In his speech, Belmonte also endorsed anew his "personal advocacy" to amend economic provisions of the Constitution to lift foreign ownership restrictions on businesses and land.
While the charter change proposal is set to be discussed in the House plenary, Aquino has yet to give his nod to any attempts to amend the Constitution. - Rappler.com
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