The questions that were asked by then Congressman Mar Roxas were totally unexpected. He asked us to explain how the Department of Finance came up with its forecasts on how much revenues government would be able to raise. He questioned us on our assumptions on the GDP growth rate, inflation, and foreign exchange . He then asked us to draw up alternative scenarios under different assumptions. He went to great lengths in scrutinizing how government intended to finance the deficit which required us to explain the tax reforms that the DOF intended to propose, and, the additional debt that government would incur. Our grueling experience was both exhilarating and reassuring. It was the first time for us to experience being grilled by a Member of the House on how the macro numbers were estimated and what they meant. We felt confident that a responsible Congress would provide a check and balance to prevent abuses, and, help ensure that no agency or person in government becomes too controlling and powerful.
This is how it should be. The legislation of the budget is the time when the elected representatives of the people should exact accountability from all the officials and agencies in government. How did they spend their budgets last year? What results can they show for all the money that they received? How much of their targets were achieved? Is the country safer? Has the crime index dropped? Are there more children in schools? Are the children healthier? Has poverty incidence declined? These are some questions that need to be answered. The citizens need to be informed how the administration has performed.
Otherwise, it has no reason to ask for more. It has violated its social contract with taxpayers who gave up part of their hard-earned income in exchange for public goods and services.
Unfortunately, legislation has become the weakest phase in budgeting. Instead of an intelligent exchange of ideas on policies and programs, Committee hearings serve as venues for legislators to push for promotion of favored persons and proteges. Questions are raised on why their districts have not been favored with projects. It is also the time to air gripes. It is an occasion for horse-trading, i.e. the exchange of favors to pay political debts and gain more power. This is the tragedy of the commons. Politicians and bureaucrats behave as if public funds were their own. Everybody looks after his/her own turf and protects his/her own interest. Only those who are noble look after the common good.
Government agencies can also be faulted . Budgetary hearings serve as platforms to flaunt accomplishments. Often, they are stated in terms of activities and outputs, instead of impact and outcomes. It is not often that an agency presents the results of its work compared to its targets, and, the costs that were expended. How much did it cost to finance a Presidential visit to Israel ? How much did it cost to host an international conference and what are the trade-offs?
Budget legislation requires integrity and patriotism. It also requires skills that can enable a legislator to do intelligent study, analysis and participate in intelligent debates. How many of our legislators can stand up to these standards? And how many of those who are running for election even understand the virtues and competencies that the office requires? And lest I forget, budget legislation requires courage to fight for what is right instead of what the false gods want.