DBM FY 2018 Budget Forum Opening Remarks: The Budget is not about us, it is about the people we serve

Posted on January 17, 2017

DBM Budget Call Forum, 17 January 2017, Philippine International Convention Center, Pasay City

Co-workers in Government, ladies and gentlemen:  good morning. Welcome and thank you for being here.

This is a crucial moment for all of us in government. Today we start the process of preparing the 2018 national budget. This meeting signals the start of the many tasks ahead of us in the coming months, with the agencies submitting their budget proposals to our Department. And with the collective efforts and attention to detail, I expect the President’s Budget to be completed, published and embargoed two weeks before the President delivers his Second State of the Nation Address on July 24th.

So our task is to put together the national budget for 2018, the first real budget to be crafted under the Duterte administration. Moving forward, we envision the 2018 budget to sustain the President’s 0+10-Point Socioeconomic Agenda – 0 there means peace and order. While the Agenda is the blueprint in achieving the promise of change and prosperity, the 2018 and future budgets until 2022 are expected to put flesh and blood to this skeletal Agenda.

We plan to invest boldly in infrastructure development to raise productivity, create a lot of decent jobs, and attract investors.

We plan to provide full support to all regions in the country, rich and poor, but most especially to the poorest, lagging, and climate-vulnerable areas, to help them catch up with the other leading regions.

We will continue efforts to strengthen the link between planning and budgeting, and streamline the implementation of projects so that our people realize results immediately.

At this point, I ask everyone to never lose sight of what should matter most to us: the appropriate role of government, the agency’s mandate, the readiness to execute the listed programs and projects, and the capability of agency officials and staff to implement their budget and achieve their objectives.

Our end goal of this exercise is not just a jumble of meaningless numbers, put together aimlessly, just to have a large budget. Rather, it is to fulfill the appropriate role of government: to establishing a strong, not a failed, state; reliable national defense; meaningful law and order; efficient and unbiased justice system: superior public infrastructure; excellent and accessible public education; universal health care; significant job creation and poverty reduction; and empowered, responsible and responsive local governments.

As we prepare the 2018 budget, we should all do a lot of soul-searching. The agency head and senior officials should ask, among others, the following questions:

  • What is the appropriate role of my agency in the overall scheme of having a strong, responsive, and responsible government?  For example, if my agency is advisory in nature, why should I propose to implement projects or generate my own statistics or train people? If the mandate of my line agency is to do Task A, why should I seek to do another task that rightfully belongs to another line agency? So you have to scrutinize the mandate – the mandate dictates the budget, so we should avoid overlapping budgets.
  • The next question I should ask is: why do I propose programs and projects for 2018 when I know that these programs have not been carefully studied or have been poorly rated or these projects are not shovel ready?
  • Is the proposed budget higher, equal, or less than the corresponding expected output? For example, is the budget for school building appropriate to the proposed number of school buildings to be built, or the budget for new roads appropriate to the number of kilometers of roads to be constructed?
  • Now the next question, which is of course our favorite question is: What is my agency’s absorptive capacity? Am I proposing a budget that I cannot possibly implement, given the size and quality of the agency staff, within the fiscal year? Am I biting more than what I can chew? There is an economic cost to over budgeting. It denies other agencies who are more capable and able the opportunity to deliver essential public services at an earlier time.

Finally, the national budget is not about us – it’s about the people we serve.  Hence, the 2018 national budget should contain the narrative of our citizens. It should be the story of public school students, of farmers in Mindanao, of brave soldiers and policemen, of young professionals, of overseas workers and their families, of indigenous people and the elderly. It should be the story of the ordinary man of the street. Let us make their story a story of success and positive change.

Thank you and Mabuhay!