A budget of, by, and for the people

Teofisto Guingona III
The people need to be mobilized into crafting the budget themselves

Sen. Teofisto TG Guingona IIIIn the private sector, budgets and finances are well-kept secrets.

The secrecy helps in burying competition before he knows it. Because no one really knows, it allows business to project illusions of storefront “bigness” to pull in clients or “smallness” for unwanted solicitors and tax people. Employees even get fired for leaking confidential information about budgets, finances, and spending.

In the public sector, such fiduciary secrecy is foolish. The profit motive is irrelevant. There are no clients to speak of in a commercial sense nor is anyone in government afraid of the BIR.

The money comes FROM the people; it is spent FOR the people. So why are local and national budgets not “made” BY the people?

Men in black

We have long been lulled in the belief that budget preparation is the turf of the priesthood of politicians, accountants, and technocrats, the men in black. They work behind closed doors, away from the prying eyes of the public.

After all, what does the public know? Plain folks are plainly incompetent with ledgers, spread-sheets, taxation, interest rates, procurement processes, infrastructure projects, NBE deals, PCSO scams, President’s Bridge Programs, and retirement pabaons for military generals. The people know nothing until these are investigated by the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee.

People make conclusions on the basis of what they see: that unfettered corruption went into the preparation of government budgets when mashed potato roads, dancing bridges, and flimsy schoolrooms are built with billions of pesos in public funds.

The people know something went fishy when government hospitals are short of room, beds, and medications; when good roads are paved and re-paved and unpaved roads remain unpaved for eternity; when good soldiers die from enemy fire because their weapons failed; when local governments are totally unprepared for calamity; when there is no potable water to drink; and when law enforcers are unable to run after thugs for lack of gas, or engine maintenance, or patrol car, or firearm.

What the people know is enough. They need to be mobilized into crafting the budget themselves, as well as monitoring the implementation of government projects with a watchful eye.

Budget revolution

In November 2010, we convened the Open Budget Partnership, a collaborative initiative that involved the budget department, the Senate Finance Committee, the House Committee on Appropriations, civil society, professional and academic institutions, and international development agencies.

The goal was singular: a fully transparent and accountable public budget process crafted by the people themselves. It signaled a revolutionary change, a radical departure from a budget process that required people to stand at a distance while politicians helped themselves to the people’s money. All that people had to do was whine, grumble, and complain when the money goes to projects incongruent to their needs.

Over the medium term, the Open Budget Partnership plans full multi-sector engagement in fiscal policy formulation and involvement in budget preparation and implementation, tracking and monitoring of expenditures, and further expanding the people’s participation. At each step, the Partnership guiding principle is that the people’s money should significantly benefit the poor.

As a pilot element of the recently-approved 2013 national budget, 593 of the country’s poorest municipalities submitted Local Poverty Reduction Action Plans worth P8.37-billion, which were completed in tandem with civil society organizations (CSOs) in their jurisdictions. The money goes to community-determined anti-poverty interventions, such as agriculture and fisheries support, potable water supply, public healthcare, and basic education.

The national government, in fact, considered these action plans in formulating the 2013 national budget. Moreover, President Noynoy Aquino doubled the number of national government agencies tasked to forge Budget Partnership Agreements with CSOs to 12 departments and 6 government-owned or –controlled corporations (GOCCs).

Sa paggugol na matuwid, hindi maaaring tayo-tayo lang sa gobyerno ang nagpapasya at kumikilos,” President Aquino admonished legislators last year. “Kailangan natin ng mga kasama, kaakibat, at kakampi – ang taumbayang nagluklok sa atin sa poder.”

The wider view is to propagate the politics of inclusivity among the poorest of the poor, starting with budget processes that have been the lifeblood of graft and corruption. Slowly but surely, we do this by putting the people at the center of governance because the people know their needs better than any politician or bureaucrat.

Hopefully, we succeed. If we do, the people and democracy will be triumphant. – Rappler.com

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