Social Watch PH to Gov't: "Institutionalize Participatory Governance in the Budget Reform Act"| SWP PR Mar 27 2018
SocialWatch Phils·Tuesday, March 27, 2018
Social Watch Philippines (SWP) “Greater access to public financial information and mechanisms for people’s participation. These are the two things that we wish to be clearly spelled out in the proposed Budget Reform Act. While we recognize the government’s initiatives to reform the budget processes and take note that this Administration even created an Office for Participatory Governance (OPG) that is part of the Cabinet Cluster, we believe that this important piece of legislation must pass the bar in so far as participatory governance is concerned,” said Social Watch Philippines (SWP) in a statement Tuesday. Social Watch Philippines is a budget watchdog that has been advocating for transparent, efficient, accountable and pro-poor utilization of public funds, especially the financing of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) in the national and local budgets. The proposed Budget Reform Act, was passed by the House of Representatives on second and third & final reading on March 20, 2018; while the Senate Committee on Finance filed a substitute Senate Bill 1761 on March 21, 2018 with Committee Chair Senator Loren B. Legarda and Senator Joel Villanueva delivering their sponsorship speeches on the same day. The budget reform measure is expected to be passed into law before the State of the Nation Address. “People’s participation in budget reforms is a central concern to us because this assures space and hearing for people’s issues and demands in the planning and budgeting processes,” SWP Co-Convenor Isagani Serrano said. In the past six months, SWP has been involved in the ongoing discussions in the formulation of the bill as it sees this as an opening for cementing what it has been advocating for all these years. SWP participated in the technical working group meetings with key government agencies called by the Office of Senator Loren Legarda and the Senate Committee on Finance as well as of the Undersecretary for Budget Policy and Strategy Laura Pascua of the Department of Budget and Management. “SWP will continue to specifically put forward proposed provisions around the principles of openness, transparency, accountability, efficiency, people’s participation, and equity in important sections of the bill for inclusion in the proposed law at the Senate”, Jessica Cantos, another SWP Co-convenor shared. CITIZEN’S AGENDA FOR BUDGET REFORMS SWP proposes that equity considerations, particularly for the most disadvantaged sectors, be incorporated as a distinct criteria in the evaluation of funding proposals and in the monitoring of the implementation of programs and projects. “This is to ensure that public funds are distributed equitably to those that are most in need, with children, as one of the priority sectors. Including equity is consistent with the sustainable development goal principles of leaving no one behind. It is also consistent with the fiscal responsibility and inclusive economic growth framework of this government,” Serrano explained. In terms of transparency and accountability in financial reporting, Serrano underscored the importance of including a clause on ensuring that financial reports are presented by Programs, Activities and Projects (PAPs) for agencies and government corporations. “Helpful in aligning expenditures with the approved budget, the objective of this proposal is for the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) or the agencies specify in key budget reports the corresponding PAPs description as stated in the General Appropriations Act (GAA) along with unpacking the PAPs or budget line items in the GAA into their various components or activities,” he argued. SWP also insisted on stricter measures to ensure people’s participation in the budget process. SWP proposes that consultations and partnerships with various citizen stakeholders be clearly mandated in the bill. Policies and regulations for the establishment of participatory budgeting mechanisms should be formulated with citizen stakeholders. Identified accountable bodies – DBM, House of Representatives and the Senate, and the Commission on Audit – that will enforce policies and regulations on citizens’ participation in the budget process should be restored. “With proposed stronger provisions on participatory budgeting, these have to be enforced through accompanying sanctions and penalties that would keep the government accountable at all times. Penalty provisions for non-recognition and prevention of CSOs from participating in participatory budget mechanisms should make its way into the proposed law,” Cantos said. SWP proposes a new provision within mandating the suspension of 3 to 6 months for government officer or employee with a fine of P50,000 to P100,000, or both.
“As the details of the eventual law will be fleshed out in the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR), we see the involvement of CSOs in its formulation as a crucial entry point to further break down our intended amendments for the budget process and Public Financial Management (PFM) system,” she added. SWP recommends that CSOs, academics and experts, and other individual and organized stakeholders be invited and consulted in the formulation of the IRR should it become law. Cantos also argued for openness, greater transparency in budget legislation, given that some important changes from the proposed budget are devoid of public Congressional scrutiny through a closed bicameral conference committee (Bicam). “New provisions on institutionalizing Open Bicam of the General Appropriations Bill and referencing amendments of legislators via footnote in Bicam report with name of author, date proposed, and brief explanation for request or proposal would enable the legislature to exercise its Power of the Purse with utmost accountability. Citizens will have the opportunity to vet the legislators’ revisions in the national budget,” she claimed. ENGAGING THE SENATE At this critical juncture, SWP is determined to keep the public informed about the salient features, vulnerable provisions as well as our recommended provisions for this proposed legislation while the Congress’ session is on a two-month recess,” Serrano said.
“People cannot engage the budget process if they do not know how. They need to be equipped to be able to participate in an informed way and effectively. It behooves the government to create a platform to build people’s capacity for meaningful participation the budget process,” he added.
“A budget process and PFM system governed by equity will ensure that the formulation and implementation of the budget are aligned with the rights, welfare and needs of the marginalized and vulnerable sectors, especially the children,” Cantos stressed.
“Citizens’ participation in the budget process is a hallmark of the proposed Budget Reform Act. We call on the Senate to exemplify this practice at this point and incorporate the citizens’ amendments in the said legislative measure,” Serrano said in closing.
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