Friday, 30 July 2010

Whoops, Palace admits nothing wrong with Arroyo fund releases

by Joyce Pangco Pañares
Manila Standard

PALACE officials acknowledged Wednesday that there was nothing illegal in the way the previous administration released funds during the first half of the year, two days after President Benigno Aquino III slammed his predecessor for leaving only 10 percent of the national budget intact.

Budget Undersecretary Mario Relampagos said the Arroyo administration could have been more prudent in its spending, but all the releases were “well within the budget appropriation.”

Relampagos also corrected President Aquino’s statement that the government was left with only P100 billion, saying the right figure was P591.4 billion.

In a press briefing at the Palace, the Budget official said the Arroyo administration had released P949.2 billion of the 2010 budget as of June 30 because infrastructure projects had to be pursued during the summer months.

Of the P591.4 billion left, P313 billion was for automatic appropriations such as interest payments and internal revenue allotments, P115.4 billion was for personal services, and P62 billion was for congressional initiatives.

Relampagos said the P100 billion figure that President Aquino mentioned in his State-of-the-Nation Address was the amount that he may declare as savings, which could be used to augment the administration’s priority programs.

“Legally, there’s nothing anomalous in the releases,’’ Relampagos said. “There’s nothing illegal because everything is within the authority granted by Congress to the executive branch to spend for the year.”

But Relampagos said the Arroyo administration could have been more prudent in its spending to prevent exceeding the budget deficit ceiling by P51 billion for the first six months.

With a P23-billion revenue shortfall, prudence dictated that the government should have lowered its spending, Relampagos said.

If revenue was not forthcoming and the government could not support the allotments that had been issued, then it shouldn’t be too quick to authorize more spending.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda denied that Mr. Aquino was trying to mislead the public in saying only P100 billion was left by the past administration for him to spend.

“There was no statement there to mislead the people. That’s the only amount that he had wiggle-room for,” Lacierda said.

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