BBL should ensure wise fiscal spending in Bangsamoro – Dominguez

Camille Elemia
BBL should ensure wise fiscal spending in Bangsamoro – Dominguez

Rappler

'A lot of this you have to understand needs the acceptance of the public outside of the area. Because taxes from Luzon, Visayas will be provided here and if the people do not agree that this money is being spent correctly, then we will have a problem.'

MANILA, Philippines – Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez said the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law should ensure “fiscal discipline” for the Bangsamoro region.

Dominguez said any proposed funding scheme in the BBL, which seeks to abolish the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, should be “programmatic, transparent, performance-based and phased.”

“The implementation of plans and programs must be clear and reliable to ensure effective utilization of funds. These are the criteria of modern governance. Ensuring them will help in winning broader public support for the proposed autonomy arrangement,” Dominguez said during the 11th and final Senate hearing on the proposed BBL on Tuesday, February 13.

Dominguez said the success of the bill “is built on the public’s acceptance of the law.” He said people from Luzon and Visayas have to see that their taxes are being spent wisely.

“A lot of this you have to understand needs the acceptance of the public outside of the area. Because taxes from Luzon, Visayas will be provided here and if the people do not agree that this money is being spent correctly, then we will have a problem,” he told reporters in an interview.

Under the draft bill of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, which is contained in Senate Bill 1646, the new region would enjoy the “maximum form of fiscal autonomy” and would be authorized to prepare and pass its own budget.

Article 12, Section 17 of the proposed BBL mandates the national government to give the Bangsamoro region an “annual block grant” or share in internal revenue, which should be equivalent to 6% of the net national revenue collection of the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Bureau of Customs. Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, chair of the BBL subcommittee, pegged the amount at P72 billion.

The bill also seeks to grant unconditional funding from government revenues and free from control of central government. This is in stark contrast to the current scheme where the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao is required to get congressional nod for funds and projects.

On top of the annual block grant, Zubiri said the Bangsamoro would be given an additional P10 billion for “development funds” for the first year of implementation.

The amount would be reduced to P8 billion within the law’s second to fifth year of implementation, P6 billion within the 6th to 10th year, and P2.8 billion from the 10th year onwards.

National government’s role

But Dominguez said the release of the funds should be phased until such time that the Bangsamoro region has already adapted to the measure.

He also suggested that the central government help the region in designing, monitoring, and implementing projects in the fields of tourism, infrastructure, health, agriculture, and investments.

“We want to help them make it successful and the way to make it successful is to be with them, monitoring this project. Designing a project, monitoring it, implementing it, is very difficult. I am not saying they can’t do it but we should help them,” Dominguez said.

He said this would not run contrary to the concept of fiscal autonomy: “The decision can be made by them but we can do it together. We can co-implement.”

He also told the panel that there should be no gray areas between national and local taxes to avoid conflicts.

“It has to be very clear as to who is in charge of what and it is important also that the national government provides technical assistance to the Bangsamoro autonomous region because fiscal management is not easy and people have to practice and experience it and we have the experienced people and we are willing to help them in every step of the way,” he said.

Discipline, Anti-corruption

BTC Commissioner Jose Lorena assured Dominguez that there are provisions to ensure fiscal discipline.

Lorena said they have also included provisions that would mandate full disclosure policy on funds for transparency.

“We are with him in looking at fiscal discipline. We have provided very clearly (in the bill) to put symmetry between national and regional government programs,” said Lorena.

In an earlier hearing in Jolo, Sulu, Zubiri said there would be safeguards against corruption considering the amount of money expected to come in the Bangsamoro.

Zubiri said there would be  pre-audit and post-audit of programs and projects. He said there would also be a regional office of the Commission on Audit as well as an Ombudsman. – Rappler.com

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Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation issues, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com