By Bernadette D. Nicolas, February 14 2019; Business Mirror

Image Credit to Business World

THE country will have a new budget by the end of the first quarter should Congress stay true to its word to submit the P3.757-trillion proposed national budget by March 1, Budget Secretary Benjamin E. Diokno said on Wednesday.

Diokno he doesn’t see another extension for the government to operate on a reenacted budget because of this commitment from Congress.

“We already authorized the agencies to spend up to the first quarter, so I don’t think it will take another extension. We will have a new budget by the end of the first quarter,” he added.

The budget chief said they have yet to see the enrolled copy of the bill but as soon as they receive the bill, they will need about a week to scrutinize the budget line by line.

“When we get it, we’ll need four to seven days. Our people here at DBM [Department of Budget and Management], we will prepare what is called a Statement of Difference. We will go through the budget line by line, the President’s budget and the enrolled copy line by line…and then in every line, if there are amendments then we will make a recommendation to the President,” he said.

While Duterte has 30 days to act on the proposed bill, Diokno is confident that it won’t take that long for the President to approve or do a line-item veto on the budget bill.

Now that Congress has already ratified the budget, Diokno said the “uncertainty is gone” and that they are now “moving forward.”

Despite the delayed budget passage in Congress, he reiterated that its damage to the economy will not be that big, since they already have a “catch-up plan.”

“Right now, I have a scheduled meeting with individual agencies, so we will figure out what’s [their] monthly program for the next 10 months,” he said.

Recognizing a looming election spending ban on public works, which will take effect from March 29 to May 12, Diokno said Public Works Secretary Mark Villar is preparing a list of projects to be exempted from the ban.

“Fortunately, foreign-assisted projects are not covered by the ban,” he said.

Andaya dared: Name official

Meanwhile, Diokno broke his silence on the new allegation of House Appropriations Committee Chairman and Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando G. Andaya Jr. that contractors have already paid “commissions” or “cash advances” for the P75 billion worth of infrastructure projects allegedly inserted by Diokno in the 2019 budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways.

While Diokno vehemently objected this accusation, he also urged Andaya to name the high-ranking government official who allegedly had to return his P200-million cash advance in full to a group of Mindanao-based contractors for “fear of his life.”

“It seems Andaya has appointed himself spokesman of these contractors who have already given commissions. Let me remind the congressman that giving commissions is very clearly graft. It is his duty to name the high-profile government official he mentioned who advanced his own funds to a contractor because of expected commissions,” Diokno said.

Refuting Andaya’s allegations, Diokno also said the conduct of early procurement activities, short of an award, is not new and has been allowed since 2009 under the Arroyo administration when, he noted, Andaya was budget secretary.

Nonetheless, Diokno said early procurement should not in any way include or involve any form of advance payments or commissions.

“I do not know what the practice was when Andaya was budget secretary, but under our watch, advance payments of commissions are considered illegal. Such practices are not, and will not, be condoned by the Duterte administration,” he said.