Friday, October 22, 2021

EXPLAINER: The P40M 'typo' in SB #1, which includes outlay for Cebu City legislative building. Minority suspects insertion, not clerical error.

Photos from SunStar Archive and Facebook account of Atty. Charisse Piramide

THE Cebu City Council has called for the city architect and city engineer, along with the city accountant, to present to the councilors at its next session the plans and cost details for the renovation of the legislative building, where the Sanggunian holds sessions and keeps offices. All because of a typographical error.

Atty. Charisse "Chappy" Piramide, City Council secretary, told SunStar Friday, September 24, the approved amount for Supplemental Budget #1 was P4,387,299,618.33 but the amount "typed" was P4,347,299,618.33. Read the numbers again and spot the difference. Both numbers are similar except for three digits in the "millions" part: 347 instead of 387, or short by P40 million.

The P40 million outlay for legislative building renovation was included in the P4.38-billion Supplement Budget #1, which the same Sanggunian approved last July 28 by an 8-6 vote.

TWO REASONS. So there's an error in the total amount and Majority Floor Leader Raymond Alvin Garcia moved for its correction. Instead, the City Council decided last Wednesday, September 22, to reopen discussion on that one specific item because:

[1] Minority councilors suspected it was not a clerical mistake but an "insertion." BOPK Councilor Frankly Ong asked aloud, "A P40 million typographical error?"

[2] The opposers want to learn more about the renovation plans, which apparently they weren't able to do before the Sanggunian approved SB #1 last July.

WAS IT AN INSERTION? The question could've been answered quickly by re-reading 2021 SB #1 and checking if the item allegedly inserted was there from the start. The secretariat records must tell them that. The councilors through their staff must have a copy of the SB budget that was proposed and approved. Was the outlay for renovation in there? And they could've done the math and seen why the numbers didn't add up.

No description accompanied the total number that turned out to be erroneous. So how did they pin it on the outlay for legislative building renovation? Atty. Piramide said it was the only item that snugly fitted into the P40 million discrepancy. She told SunStar she promptly informed in writing the councilors about the error once the city budget officer cited to the Sanggunian secretariat the variance in numbers.

Councilor Garcia went along with the minority push for a new look at the proposal, presumably because he knew it wouldn't lead to the scrapping of the amount. Many councilors, even those not expecting to return in the next Sanggunian, were expected to have affinity for the project pushed by Vice Mayor Michael Rama.

Councilor Alvin Dizon, consistent with his advocacy for priority spending, said they can be pursued after the health crisis is overcome. Last year, a P60 million item for the legislative building's renovation, along with P100 million for legislative archives, was initially included but was slashed from 2020 SB #3.

EFFECT ON REST OF SB#1. How would the error in numbers affect implementation of this year's supplemental budget? 2021 SB #1 does not just carry outlay for the legislative building renovation but also for urgent purposes, such as for the salaries of health-care workers, aid for pandemic victims, and additional money for the Cebu City Medical Center building.

If the Department of Budget and Management renders 2021 SB #1 inoperative or decides to suspend its execution pending reconsideration by the City Council, that might impair some plans and projects.

Atty. Piramide said they still haven't received word from DBM. Which in the meantime could allow payment of obligations covered by the said supplemental budget until it is formally nullified or frozen.

SECOND ATTACK. The second blow on 2021 SB #1 followed the attack by the minority last August 4 when BOPK councilors questioned the validity of its passage -- eight against six, or by simple majority instead of qualified majority -- and pushed for a legal opinion from the city legal office and the Department of Interior and Local Government.

The DILG opinion will be interesting: whether it will rely on its standing ruling, which says that since the law is silent on the vote required for a supplemental budget, the presumption is that a simple majority is required. But DILG apparently didn't consider that in Cebu City's case, the Sanggunian expressly supplied for the vacuum in the law by providing the vote required, wherein its House rules specifically say the simple majority vote is "only for ordinary motions and resolutions."


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