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Lawmakers seek more time to harmonize versions of proposed national budget

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THE BICAMERAL CONFERENCE COMMITTEE reconciling versions of the P4.1-trillion national budget proposed for 2020 deferred anew the approval of the spending plan from Tuesday, leaders of both chambers said separately on Monday.

“It’s moved to Wednesday,” House of Representatives Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. Isidro T. Ungab of Davao City’s 3rd District said in a mobile phone message when asked to confirm the target date of approval.

“Staff are still finalizing some details.”

Asked for updates, Senator Juan Edgardo M. Angara replied via text that the panel is “still finalizing but almost complete” in its task.

Panel Vice-Chairman Jose Ma. Clemente S. Salceda of Albay’s 2nd District initially said the bicameral panel was set to approve and ratify the bill on Monday. The target was later moved to Tuesday.

Mr. Angara had said on Sunday that the initial postponement was to give senators more time to review amendments proposed by members of the House.

In a briefing with reporters ahead of the announcement, Mr. Salceda said the House and Senate contingents have settled differences and were ready to approve the reconciled spending plan. “Ready na po, nagkasundo na ’yung House at Senate (have come to an agreement); konting detalye na lang (we just have to iron out a few details),” Mr. Salceda told reporters in a briefing, Monday.

He assured that final version of the budget will be submitted to President Rodrigo R. Duterte for signing by the time Congress adjourns for the Dec. 21, 2019-January 19, 2020 break.

“Dec. 21 nasa desk na ng Pangulo (The budget will be on the President’s desk by Dec. 21),” he said.

The bicameral panel started its work on Nov. 29 when both chambers agreed to allow Messrs. Angara and Ungab to hold a one-on-one meeting to discuss their respective proposals.

The House approved House Bill No. 4228, or the General Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2020, on Sept. 20; while the Senate passed its version on Nov. 27. The President had certified the bill as an urgent measure, doing away with the three-day interval in the second- and third reading approval.

Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III last week said the budget may be approved by the bicameral conference committee and ratified by both houses on the week of Dec. 9.

The House and the Senate are working to prevent a repeat of the months-long delay in the enactment of the 2019 budget.

To recall, an impasse between the House and the Department of Budget and Management over a stricter spending framework and later with the Senate over post-ratification realignments delayed the budget for almost four months.

President Duterte had signed the 2019 budget, initially worth P3.757-trillion, on April 15; but vetoed some P95.3 billion appropriations.

That delay plus a ban on new public works 45 days ahead of the May 13 midterm elections — which left planned new infrastructure projects unfunded last semester — made overall economic growth slow to 5.8% in the first three quarters from 6.2% a year ago and against a 6-7% government target for 2019.

The Budget department has begun work on the 2021 budget after it issued on Nov. 29 the national budget call, ordering government agencies to draft their budget proposals. — Charmaine A. Tadalan





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