Watchdog wants participatory governance in budget reform bill

MANILA Budget watchdog, Social Watch Philippines (SWP) on Tuesday stressed the need to provide greater access to public financial information and mechanisms for people's participation in the proposed Budget Reform Act.

SWP convenor Isagani Serrano said people's participation in budget reforms assures space and hearing for people's issues and demands in the planning and budgeting processes.

"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 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, Serrano said.

The budget reform bill has already hurdled third reading at the House of Representatives last week, while the Senate version remains pending at the committee level.

Jessica Cantos, another SWP convenor, said consultations and partnerships with various citizen stakeholders should be clearly mandated in the bill.

Cantos added that there should be accountable bodies such as the Commission on Audit, Department of Budget and Management, House and Senate that will enforce policies and regulations on citizens' participation in the budget process.

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," she said.

"Penalty provisions for non-recognition and prevention of CSOs (civil society organizations) from participating in participatory budget mechanisms should make its way into the proposed law, Cantos added.

The budget watchdog proposed that erring officers or employees will be suspended for three to six months or pay a fine of PHP50,000 to PHP100,000, or both.

Cantos also argued for openness and greater transparency in budget legislations, pointing out that some important changes in the proposed budget are devoid of public scrutiny due to closed bicameral committee conferences.

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 a legislature to exercise its Power of the Purse with utmost accountability," Cantos said.

"Citizens will have the opportunity to vet the legislators' revisions in the national budget, she added.

House Bill 7302, or the proposed "Budget Reform Act", seeks to improve the budget process by enforcing greater accountability, strengthening the power of the purse of Congress, and increasing budget transparency and participation.

The bill aims to ensure accountability and integrity in the use of public resources by ensuring transparency, fiscal responsibility, results orientation, efficiency, and effectiveness.

It covers the management of revenue, expenditure, financing arrangements, and assets and liabilities of national government agencies, government-owned and -controlled corporations, and local government units.

Under the bill, Congress shall be mandated to monitor and review government performance against the requirements of appropriations and related laws, and hold government agencies accountable for their financial and non-financial performance.

Source: Philippine News Agency