A Philippines peso note is seen in this picture illustration on June 2, 2017. — REUTERS

By Beatriz Marie D. Cruz

SOME US BUSINESS groups and investors have shown interest in the proposed Maharlika Investment Fund (MIF), Budget Secretary Amenah F. Pangandaman said.

“We had a sideline meeting with the United States Business Council and their questions were about our sovereign wealth fund, (and they’re asking) when it will be operationalized,” she said in a roundtable interview with BusinessWorld reporters and editors in Quezon City on April 19.

Ms. Pangandaman was part of the economic team who met with business groups and investors in Washington, D.C. earlier this month.

“They’re willing to help us with how to organize the [MIF],” she said, adding that the sovereign wealth fund’s structure has not been finalized.

The House of Representatives approved on third reading the bill creating the country’s sovereign wealth fund in December 2022. The Senate plenary is now deliberating the counterpart measure.

In the Senate’s committee report, initial capital will come from the Land Bank of Philippines and the Development Bank of the Philippines; dividends of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP); the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp.; and proceeds from the privatization and transfer of government assets. Other sources such as royalties and special assessments may also be tapped.

The MIF will also adhere to the Santiago principles, which contain generally accepted values and practices on sovereign wealth funds.

Asked why the government is pushing for the MIF amid a global economic slowdown, Ms. Pangandaman said: “If we don’t do it now, then when?”

“I think we have the fundamentals now. We have a good political system, and the support of the president is there, there is coordination between our legislators, and the (business) environment is now, in a way, open,” she said.

Meanwhile, Ms. Pangandaman called on Congress to pass a measure amending Republic Act (RA) No. 9184 or the Government Procurement Reform Act.

The current law is “too stringent even the use of digitalization, and [the] payment system is not provided in the law,” she said.

Jean Celzo-Dapula, committee secretary of the House Revision of Laws Committee, said via Viber that the panel aims to approve the measure by August this year.

She said that lawmakers are in the process of including provisions for an “automated and transparent” procurement process. “This is to shorten the period and facilitate well the procurement process in the country,” she said.

Ms. Celzo-Dapula said a technical working group (TWG) is still discussing how to include provisions on sustainable products and materials, as well as aid for micro, small, and medium enterprises.

The TWG is also looking to add provisions imposing penalties on individuals who have accomplices in government who violate the procurement process.

The bill also includes provisions that use the best value procurement method, which is practiced globally, rather than the lowest calculated bid, Ms. Celzo-Dapula said.

“The very essence of the need to revise RA 9184 is because of the changing times,” she said. “We should maximize the use of technology to make our processes more transparent, efficient, streamlined, and with utmost accountability.”

Also, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) urged lawmakers to pass the bill seeking to institutionalize the cash budgeting system.

Ms. Pangandaman said the bill will push agencies to plan better before requesting a budget.

AKO BICOL Party-list Rep. Elizaldy S. Co, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said via Viber that the committee has received the DBM’s latest version of the bill.

Budget Undersecretary Joselito R. Basilio told BusinessWorld that the bill includes provisions that would increase public sector participation and strengthen information management systems to harmonize public financial management agencies, namely the Commission on Audit, the DBM, and the Bureau of the Treasury.

The DBM’s latest bill also seeks to improve the Treasury management system and multi-year contracts.

Ms. Pangandaman also said Congress should approve the proposed National Government Rightsizing Act. The House approved the measure on March 6, while a counterpart measure is still pending at the Senate committee.

“(The bill) will give the Executive the authority and the power to reorganize the bureaucracy. Because some offices, bureaus, divisions, departments, are created by law, it’s difficult for us to merge them or abolish them,” she said.

Reducing the bureaucracy by 5% would save the government P14.8 billion, Ms. Pangandaman added.