Budget Watch

Sotto: ‘Rightsize’ the bureaucracy before creating new agencies

JC Gotinga

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Sotto: ‘Rightsize’ the bureaucracy before creating new agencies

BUDGET PLENARY. (L-R) Senators Panfilo Lacson, Francis Tolentino, Sherwin Gatchalian, Sonny Angara, and Senate President Vicente Sotto III during a budget plenary session on November 11, 2020

photo by Alex Nueva España/Senate PRIB

Salaries and benefits of government workers already take up about 33% of the proposed P4.5-trillion national budget for 2021, senators point out

The Senate will revive its push to “rightsize” the country’s bureaucracy in light of its “bloated” toll on government resources, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said on Wednesday, November 11.

At P1.3 trillion, personal services (PS) – workers’ salaries and benefits – take up more than 60% of programmed appropriations in the proposed 2021 national budget, Sotto said as the Senate began plenary debates on the budget bill.

Senator Sonny Angara, finance panel chief and the budget bill’s sponsor, noted that PS accounts for about 33% of the P4.5-trillion proposed national budget in 2021, including automatic appropriations.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon noted that the allocation for PS exceeds even the P1.1 trillion proposed budget of the government’s Build, Build, Build infrastructure program.

Drilon urged his colleagues to consider setting aside bills proposing the creation of 8 new departments, including a “Department of Disaster Resilience” – championed by Senator Bong Go, the closest associate of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Sotto said he agreed with setting aside the proposals for new agencies, and instead tackle first Senate Bill No. 244, titled “Rightsizing the National Government to Improve Public Service Delivery.”

Overemployment in government

Filed by Sotto in July 2019, the government rightsizing bill is still pending at the committee level. In a web interview with reporters, Sotto said he would speak with Senator Ramon Revilla Jr, head of the Senate committee on civil service, government reorganization, and professional regulation, about holding hearings on the rightsizing bill.

The government needs rightsizing and a “holistic overhaul” because “the bureaucracy is bloated,” Sotto said. “The Senate should move [the rightsizing bill] along, and convince the Executive that it should be done.”

Over-employed ang gobyerno (The government is over-employed),” Sotto added.

“That the government is the largest employment agency is a truism nowadays,” Drilon quipped.

Sotto said the government needs to do away with the culture of pity in the bureaucracy – agency heads hesitating to lay off workers who have had long tenures but are no longer productive or necessary.

Senator Francis Pangilinan suggested merging the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR).

There had been proposals to abolish the DAR because it was expected to have already accomplished its mandate of redistributing land among farmers. Although the program remains necessary, Pangilinan said it may continue within the auspices of the DA.

“That would be an example of rightsizing,” Pangilinan said.

Department of Disaster Resilience vs new Senate building?

Sotto dismissed statements from some House members, who said the P1.5 billion it would take to create a Department of Disaster Resilience is minuscule compared to the cost of the planned new building to house the Senate at Fort Bonifacio in Taguig City.

Walang kinalaman ‘yon (That has nothing to do with it),” Sotto told reporters.

The Senate pays a huge rent for its current offices at the GSIS building in Pasay City, Sotto said. A new building would benefit future Senates in the long run, he added.

Gusto nila, sila magrenta, kami ang sa Batasan [Pambansa], (If they want, let them rent, and we’ll move to the Batasan Pambansa),” the Senate President said.

Besides, the senators’ concern over creating new agencies goes beyond the funds needed to start them, but also includes the yearly costs they incur.

They noted how easy it is to establish new agencies, while abolishing them is much more difficult. – Rappler.com

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JC Gotinga

JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.