BACOLOD CITY, AUGUST 13, 2010 (STAR) By Danny Dangcalan – Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said yesterday the congressional allocations in the 2011 proposed national budget were designed to promote transparency in the spending of lawmakers’ pork barrel funds.

Abad, who made a short visit here, said under the new budget each congressman would receive P70 million a year while the senators would get P200 million a year as Priority Development Assistance Fund.

“What we did was just to show and make it very clear in the budget what congressional allocations that congressmen and senators would receive. It’s been like that for sometime already but the problem is when you want to look at where the money is in the budget, you cannot find it,” Abad said.

“What we did for transparency is that there is a portion in the budget where you could actually find where the pork barrel or the congressional allocation is, that’s why the other change that we introduced is we already specified in the budget where the congressional allocation can be used,” he said.

“They (lawmakers) could invest the fund in scholarship, in public health facilities. What we did was, like in the case of farm-to-market roads, we qualified the investment… For example, if the legislator wants to put his congressional allocation in farm-to-market roads, those farm-to-market roads have to be located within the network plan prepared by the Department of Agriculture so that you put that money in principal or primary or secondary farm-to-market roads, not just anywhere. There is also a prescribed design for a certain project,” Abad explained.

Abad stressed that previously, what was really shown in the budget was much less than the P70 million that the congressmen receive and the P200 million that the senators get.

“But because they add and made insertions in the budget, eventually it comes out really to that level. But when you look at the budget you don’t see that. But this time around, you will be able to see that,” he said.

In fact, in addition to that, all the releases and all the uses, all the way up to the bidding or the procurement of the materials or services using that fund, will be uploaded in the Department of Budget and Management website as well as the website of the concerned agency, Abad said.

He said people will know where their legislator had invested his P70 million, what project, when was the SARO (Special Allotment Release Order) released, when was the NCA (Notice of Cash Allotment) released, who won the bidding for the road and when was completion of the project.

“So you can access all that in the website of the DBM and those in the implementing agency,” he said.

People can see in the program of work, by the assumptions that were used for the price of cement, the price of aggregates, the length of the road, you can make computations and find out whether in fact the fund was used properly.

Abad said that in many parts of the country that are not reached by national government agency programs, this is really an equalizer.

Sometimes small villages and small municipalities really don’t get any help or attention from national government. This way they will be able to access projects.

“I think what we really need to do is tighten the use and implementation of the program so that you can minimize leakages that may happen,” he added.

For the identification of the projects, there will be a menu or list of very specific terms for which you can place your congressional allocation.

“We remove too much discretion (of lawmakers). The problem is when there is too much discretion, that’s why we have problems of leakages. In exchange for keeping it, we have to be able to make sure that you can judiciously and responsibly use it,” he said.

Abad said the Aquino administration would not adopt the practice of the previous administration because there were some projects that were not really beneficial to the constituents.

He said that the government would make sure that the funds are used responsibly.

Malacańang had bared last Monday that the proposed 2011 national budget of P1.645 trillion increased only by a lean 6.8 percent compared to this year’s budget of P1.54 trillion.

Abad said the original budget proposal was P1.75 trillion but it was slashed to show the world and the entire bureaucracy that the Aquino administration is very judicious in its expenditure.

Under the proposed 2011 national budget, the Aquino government has proposed a P22.3-billion pork barrel, a 223.18 percent increase from this year’s allocation of P6.9 billion with the P15.4-billion increment to finance infrastructure projects.

Record attendance

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said he was gratified by the record attendance so far in sessions in the House of Representatives, even as the chamber’s leadership is trying to set up a system to ensure greater participation of its members in legislative work.

Since the 15th Congress opened last July 26, the attendance in the afternoon sessions in the 268-member chamber never went below 200 lawmakers.

Attendance of lawmakers in previous Congresses have not been that high and sometimes some parliamentary motions are approved to make it appear there is quorum to conduct business even when there are only a few congressmen.

“I appreciate record attendance in last six days,” Belmonte told reporters. “We’ve had very good attendance and participation. Maybe another week, we’re fully engaged.”

“At the moment, there’s nothing controversial yet, so it’s a question of them (House members) being industrious. Sometimes not being present is a political statement but we haven’t reached that point yet,” he said.

He said the good attendance came even as the House has yet to fully complete the committee assignments. He, however, admitted the participation rate would have to be judged on regular intervals as congressmen have three-year terms.

“I have to thank neophyte congressmen. Neophytes are very much in evidence, 140 of them more or less and they’re enthusiastic,” Belmonte said, adding many of the newcomers have already delivered privilege speeches.

He declined to comment though on some old-time lawmakers who are notorious absentees.

“We shouldn’t be too judgmental. Regardless of their past record, this is the chance to start anew,” he said. – With Paolo Romero

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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