Budget dep’t expects contract awards to surge after polls

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THE DEPARTMENT of Budget and Management (DBM) sees a “surge” in contract awarding once the 45-day ban on public works lifts after the May 13 mid-term elections.

“We expect as soon as the election ban is lifted, talagang magse-surge ang releases and awards,” DBM Officer-in-Charge Janet B. Abuel said at a House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations hearing on Monday.

Ms. Abuel explained the 45-day ban covers fund release and project implementation, but will not apply to early procurement activities. “Starting last year up to now, nagbi-bid out na po sila, short of award,” she said.

Citing preliminary data from the Bureau of the Treasury, the Finance department said on Thursday last week that state disbursements missed the program by 11% at P777.99 billion in the first quarter, although they edged up a percent from a year ago, as the government operated on a reenacted national budget that left new programs and projects unfunded.

Economic managers in February submitted to the Commission on Elections (Comelec) a list of priority infrastructure projects under the “Build, Build, Build” program that they wanted exempted from the election ban. Comelec, however, required “voluminous documents” for each project, forcing concerned agencies to cut down their list. “The strategy now, considering there is barely a month left before the ban is lifted, is we have required or instructed agencies to just submit the more urgent projects, individually with all the documentary requirements because apparently they cannot give an omnibus exemption,” Ms. Abuel said.

Appropriations vice-chairman Rep. Federico S. Sandoval II of Malabon conducted an oversight hearing on the P4.1-trillion 2020 national budget, aiming to draw lessons from disagreements between DBM and the House, and later on between the House and the Senate, that led to a four-month delay in enactment of the 2019 budget.

When President Rodrigo R. Duterte last April 15 signed this year’s national budget into law, he vetoed about P95.3 billion in appropriations — including P75-billion funds realigned to the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) budget — that he said were not in accordance with his administration’s priorities, slashing this year’s national budget to P3.662 trillion.

“The controversy of the 2019 budget began with the ceiling issue. That’s why we need to know the ceiling now. As we understood as it was presented to us in July 2018, the DPWH had a ceiling of less than P500 billion but when the GAA (General Appropriations Act) came, it was almost P600 billion. That’s why we want to be clarified now. That’s something we want to avoid in this coming budget,” Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said in the same hearing.

She then asked the DBM to submit to the committee the budget ceilings for ongoing programs and projects, as well as those for new or expanded programs and projects.

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador S. Panelo on Monday said that Malacañang hopes for stronger support for its reforms in the new 18th Congress that opens on July 22.

Unang una may bago nang Kongreso (First of all it will be a new Congress).It will not be the present Congress. After election may bago na ’yan (there will be many new faces in the House of Representatives and the Senate),” Mr. Panelo said. — Charmaine A. Tadalan