Budget watch

Since there’s also the truism that when Congress focuses on a serious problem, many useless and graft-prone ornaments end up on the Christmas tree.
Budget watch

Confessedly, only when I came across the captivating idea of looking at the national budget as a Christmas tree did I pay it due curiosity.

If you're like me — a plain citizen who never held public office like that of a government bureaucrat or congressman — the national budget doesn't particularly look enticing or sexy.

Who really does have the time to judiciously pore over the doorstop tome that is the National Budget, even if it concerns the people's money?

Or, for that matter, the diligence when the budget is deliberated on during the holiday season when one's attention is elsewhere — making one suspect that Christmas is being used to conveniently cover up shenanigans over taxes?

Viewing the national budget as a gigantic legislative Christmas tree does help in skewering legislative crocodiles who choose what ornaments to hang.

In good times, of course, we wouldn't mind so much who hangs the ornaments, reputed crocodiles or not.

When we're all better off, greedy characters hanging all those shiny, glittering ornaments get a free pass as if they're doing the right thing.

But when things are evidently bad, it's a different and nasty story altogether.

At the moment, if we are to believe the government's finance managers gloating over the third quarter's growth rebound, things aren't really so bad.

But some uneasy economic experts, like former Finance official Cielo Magno and retired investment banker Leo Alejandrino, believe our so-called balmy days are nothing but an illusory mirage.

"This country is running on fumes," scoffs Alejandrino in his popular blog, "Heneral Lunacy," citing the damning observation that the Marcos government is having difficulties honoring obligated payables like the value-added tax (VAT) refunds to Japanese firms.

"The economy is slowing down. Given the slowing down of the economy, the government has to be very mindful of the use of government funds. This should guide us in the finalization of the 2024 national budget," says Magno, who then raises the grim prospect of tax increases to cover funding shortfalls. 

Should these anxious economists turn out to be correct, we face serious problems ahead. We should be anxious as well.

Moreover, since there's also the truism that when Congress focuses on a serious problem, many useless and graft-prone ornaments end up on the Christmas tree.

Useless ornaments like basketball courts and waiting sheds in the middle of nowhere, or a bridge over a non-existent river or substandard highways, or opaque confidential funds used to feed the paranoia that students are being misled politically by progressive-minded teachers, to name a few.

Indeed, meager government resources are better spent on long-term benefits like raising educational standards or mass transport essentials like rail networks.

Nowadays, we should pay particular attention to education following the shocking news that public schools, like those in Mindoro province, are having problems paying off their dramatically rising electric bills, forcing more and more schools to rely on blended learning schemes.

Scrutinizing whether a government project makes economic sense is the order of the day.

As Magno puts it, "Unnecessary spending should be avoided as spending should be targeted that will really have significant economic effects."

Unnecessary spending, of course, involves curing once and for all the never-ending cancer of corruption.

By and large, unabated corruption is the largest ornament on the national budget Christmas tree, mostly in the form of handsomely wrapped gifts under the tree. Our legislators will never admit it, but they're salivating over those gifts.

Never mind if those are cancerous gifts, which, once opened, misallocates resources, stifles innovation, and discourages foreign investment.

In case you're wondering how expensive those cancerous gifts are, Alejandrino points out that business firms usually set five percent of their revenues for covering fraud and corruption.

If applied to our economy, that would amount to a staggering one trillion pesos of the national budget. Plainly, it's too deadly a cost.

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