(STAR) By Paolo Romero - President Arroyo is cracking the whip on departments and agencies that are sluggish in spending their budgetary allocations next year to ensure that the government’s efforts to pump prime the economy and insulate it from the global economic crisis are fully implemented, economic managers said yesterday.

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ralph Recto and Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr., in separate interviews, said the move is necessary to prod government agencies into implementing their programs and projects quickly.

“What we’re saying now is that if you can’t put your budget to good use, we’ll take it and give it to agencies that can deliver on their programs and promises to the people,” Recto said in a telephone interview.

Conversely, departments that are able to utilize their budgets would be given additional funding for the expansion or continuance of their programs using allocations from slow-moving agencies as an incentive.

The officials said they reached the decision during a recent Cabinet meeting at the Palace. Andaya said efficient spending of budgetary allocations would also result in faster delivery of basic services to the people.

Last week, economic managers unveiled a P300 billion Economic Sustainability Plan and a stimulus package for 2009 to shield the country from the global economic crisis by boosting consumer spending, government and private investments and extending more direct cash assistance to the poor.

The plan is going to be funded through the national and local budget and private sector investments.

Officials earlier said major government agencies are reportedly having problems in their “absorptive capacity” meaning their ability to utilize their budgetary allocations.

Malacañang is hoping that the proposed P1.415 trillion national budget for 2009 would be enacted by January next year to allow the Arroyo administration to undertake massive infrastructure spending in the first six months of the year when the weather is good for construction activities.

The P300 billion Economic Sustainability Plan already includes the P100 billion joint public and private infrastructure program that the President earlier announced to spur economic activity in the country.

“It is not a contingency plan, it is not a recovery plan, there is nothing to recover from, so it is continuing what we have been doing and stretching every peso in the budget to ensure that we save and create as many jobs as possible,” Recto said.

He pointed out that this year, US lost two million jobs while China lost 10.2 million. But in the Philippines, 861,000 jobs were created and the economy grew 4.6 percent in the first three quarters of the year.

“It is possible we can move the economy at higher end of target from 3.7 percent to 4.7 percent as long as we put in place the fast- tracking of projects that are easy and quick to do,” Recto said.

He said the President instructed Cabinet members to come up with “easy-to-do” projects that include rehabilitation of roads, hospitals, irrigation facilities and other schemes that have high employment and high local value-added.

“So there is a multiplier effect among the different industries involved, more jobs are safe, secured and created next year as well,” he said.

Andaya said: “We like fast-moving, off-the-shelf projects like irrigation, farm-to-market roads or those that are quick to implement.”

“We have to implement this on the first six months of the year because if we miss that, they would be hard to implement,” Andaya said.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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