Slashed appropriation

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Friday, January 10, 2014


I WON'T criticize Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama for reducing the promised annual financial assistance to senior citizens to P6,000 from as high as P12,000. That’s his prerogative.

But I criticize him for toying with the sensibility of the city’s elders. That promise to give the seniors an annual financial aid of P12,000 was made with the votes in last May’s elections in mind. And it probably helped him win a second term against former mayor Tomas Osmeña, who also promised increased benefits for senior citizens if he wins.

I would even expand that criticism to the mayor’s penchant for using public funds to advance political goals. It does seem like he learned much from Osmeña, his former mentor, who could not lose an election as an incumbent because of his wise use of his position as mayor to defeat all candidates who dared to run against him.

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I would even say Osmeña was the original. It was during his term that City Hall started giving financial assistance not only to senior citizens but to other sectors as well. He probably was the inspiration of City Councilor Gerardo Carillo, one of his protégés, who recently proposed the giving of financial assistance to single parents.

What Rama did was continue what Osmeña conceived, after which he raised the stakes even higher.

During his first term, he distributed brand new vehicles to selected barangay captains (or selected barangay councilors if the village chief was not an ally) even if the Bando Osmeña-Pundok Kauswagan (BOPK)-dominated city council had started slashing his budgetary proposals.

That jacked up the city’s MOOE (maintenance and other operating expenses). Soon, the city was hard put in allocating money for the purchase of fuel.

Apparently, the city’s residents gave Rama the benefit of the doubt regarding his obvious politicking with public funds as he was also able to implement worthwhile projects that his predecessor overlooked because of his obsession with the South Road Properties (SRP).

He attended to the city’s potholed roads and concreted others, especially in the mountain barangays. He delivered on other basis services that, again, his predecessor neglected. The perception was that, in terms of governance, he wasn’t bad.

That is probably the reason why he defeated Osmeña last May.

But in this his second term, he can no longer gloss over the weaknesses of his governance. Osmeña obviously saw one of these weaknesses: his lack of fiscal savvy.

The former mayor peddled to whoever would listen to him the claim that the city’s finances are in disarray and that the city is bankrupt, or about to go under. At the same time, BOPK councilors slashed the mayor’s budgetary proposals using his administration’s shoddy revenue generation efforts as scapegoat.

That forced Rama to finally face reality. If he wants to survive politically, he needs to show that he is a capable fiscal manager. That is actually the challenge that Osmeña and the BOPK councilors have hurled at him for several months already.

With the “meager” budget that the BOPK-dominated city council handed to him, the mayor needs to be clear about his priorities. That is why he needs to reassess the practice of giving financial assistance to selected sectors in relation to his priority projects and programs.

The slashing of the assistance to senior citizens can be an admission that the amount originally promised could drain the city’s finances and weaken its ability to run the bureaucracy and address the more important concerns of its constituents.

(khanwens@gmail.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on January 10, 2014.

Opinion

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