Rappler Talk: Ken Abante on tracking the COVID-19 budget

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MANILA, Philippines – Ken Abante is a policy researcher at the Ateneo de Manila University, as well as former chief of staff for the strategy, economics, and results group at the Department of Finance. He currently spearheads a civic engagement project to monitor the budget for the government’s pandemic response. Together with a team of over 50 volunteers, he created a citizen budget tracker for COVID-19 and published a dashboard monitoring the cost of assistance delivered to each city/municipality. 

In this Rappler Talk, Abante talks to Rappler’s Maria Ressa about the most important questions to ask in order to understand and monitor government spending for the pandemic. His team keeps constant tabs on cash flow, budget size, and the speed at which the government is spending for and delivering social services. According to him, more than a month into the enhanced community quarantine, only 14% of the social amelioration budget and 21% of the reported health budget have been spent. 

“Our report is actually entitled ‘Spend faster to stop hunger’ because we don't think cash is the constraint,” Abante said. “We don't think the authorities in the budget are the constraint because the Bayanihan Act gives the President a lot of leeway to actually reallocate budgets into the COVID-19 response. But really, the question is, are we spending fast enough? And this is where I think civic engagement can play a big role in working with our local government so we can spend faster to stop hunger.”

Abante is also tracking new loans, new dividend collections, and the status of local government finance. “What we're seeing now is so much of the responsibility is now devolved into local governments, but we do not have an idea of what the cash status of our local governments are, and we need to make sure we support them,” he said. 

Those interested in volunteering and collaborating with Abante’s team can visit bit.ly/holdpowertoaccount

Watch the interview here. – Rappler.com