NO ONE can question the priorities shown in the proposed Cebu City Government budget for next year as the pandemic made it clear that investing in health is important.
The executive department submitted a 2021 budget to the City Council for its approval. It showed a P400 million increase in the total budget. It asked for P10.8 billion, up from P10.4 billion in 2020.
What will get the biggest slice of the pie next year are the health offices and services. Councilor Raymond Alvin Garcia, Council committee on budget and finance chairman, said the Cebu City Health Department will have an appropriation of P305 million for its field and barangay programs. An additional P150 million will be for anti-pneumonia and anti-flu vaccines which are recommended by health experts as defense or mitigating measures against the coronavirus disease (Covid-19). Aside from personnel, operations and the vaccine, Garcia said the proposed budget sets aside P576 million for improvement of hospital equipment and services.
Other offices and services that will get slices of the pie are the senior citizens’ financial assistance, P900 million; aid to the barangays, P796 million; Department of Social Welfare and Services, P565 million; Department of Public Services, P539 million; and the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management sector, P383 million. Additional items are the payment for the South Road Properties, P371 million; and the Department of Engineering and Public Works, P289 million for the maintenance of the drainage system and city streets.
The Council is expected to start holding budget hearings after All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day in early November.
City Hall already has three supplemental budgets this year with the latest being the P1.9-billion fund used for “urgent expenses” to address the Covid-19 crisis. This was in addition to the first approval of P1 billion for pandemic response. There has been no liquidation or expense report yet on how the Covid-19 funds were spent this year.
With the emergency nature of the fund, it becomes critical for those holding the money to let the public know how it was spent.
Questions were raised in the past months over steam inhalation kits which at first were reported as purchased by City Hall but later said to have been donated, and the distribution of donated chickens.
President Rodrigo Duterte called for transparency in the use of Covid funds last August. He even ordered the publication in newspapers of every purchase related to pandemic response. Letting people know the items to be bought, the choice of supplier, the cost and how these are intended to be used will promote transparency and accountability.
As the City Government prepares to designate funds for next year, it too should outline the transparency measures to be adopted to let the public know.