Speaker eyes creation of audit panel to probe spending

Posted at 07/28/14 1:07 PM

MANILA – House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. on Monday directed the House of Representatives committee on rules to study the creation of a public accounts and audit committee that will have jurisdiction over all government agencies, local government units and government owned and controlled corporations.

This is after the Supreme Court ruled as unconstitutional the priority development assistance funds of lawmakers and parts of the disbursement acceleration program of Malacanang.

Belmonte said a Public Accounts and Audit Committee may "call and hold to account all national government agencies, local government units, government-owned and controlled corporations, and other government instrumentalities for their use of public funds, and to undertake legislative action to improve transparency of government operations."

In his speech at the opening of the 2nd regular session of the 16th Congress, Belmonte promised to assert the legislative branch's power of the purse due to absence of the congressional pork barrel.

He said Congress must now make sure that public funds end up with their intended beneficiaries.

''Congress holds the power of the purse, otherwise known as the power to appropriate, and its twin power, the power of legislative oversight,'' he said.

''We must now exercise these powers in order to strengthen accountability, mechanism and ensure the proper and lawful utilization of public funds."

Prior to the nullification of the PDAF by the Supreme Court, members of the House of Representatives and Senate were allowed to endorse projects even after the national budget was already enacted into law.

Belmonte said with the PDAF now gone, members of the Congress must now use their ''unique positions of proximity to the people,'' and ''explore new legislative paths to bring needed resources to our people."

He said although post-enactment intervention of the budget is no longer allowed, lawmakers can still recommend projects for their constituents during budget deliberations.

''In consultation with the various local development councils, we can continue to help identify local needs and concerns that may be overlooked by national government agencies or which could not be addressed by our local government units due to their limited financial resources,'' he said.

''We must ensure that these are identified and included in the budget."

Belmonte also highlighted the need for the Congress to use its oversight powers in ensuring no public funds end up in private pockets.

''With the committee system as our spearhead, beyond budget deliberations, every committee must now chart and oversight plan of actions over departments and entities whose mandates fall within their respective jurisdictions,'' Belmonte said.

Priority legislation

In his speech, Belmonte also laid out the priority bills of the 16th Congress.

Belmonte said the Freedom of Information Law and the Bangsamoro Basic Law, which has yet to be submitted to Congress by Malacañang, are among the lower house's top priorities.

The speaker also noted the progress on House Bill 3587 or the ''Act Prohibiting the Establishment of Political Dynasties,'' which has passed committee deliberations, and is now up for plenary discussion.

He again pushed for amending the Constitution, particularly its economic provisions, which he believes constrain the flow of important foreign direct investments in strategic sectors of the economy. Resolution of both houses on this matter is now awaiting plenary action.

Belmonte said he will also work on the passage of the National Competition Policy, Rationalization of Fiscal Incentives Act, Tax Incentives Management And Transparency Act, and the amendatory bills on the Build Operate Transfer Law, the Cabotage Law, and the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA).

Belmonte also underscored the need to ensure that the public benefit from the extraction of non-renewable resources.