Seares: DBM declares Cebu City's P49.7B 2023 budget 'operative,' rejecting only P300M of original amount proposed. Accountant Gumia says spending will depend on actual revenues. Treasurer Reyes says no, she can't meet target without tax increase and re-assessment on real properties.

CEBU. (From left) Budget Officer Marietta Gumia, City Treasurer Mae Reyes, and Cebu City Councilor Noel Wenceslao. (CCNI/SunStar photos)
CEBU. (From left) Budget Officer Marietta Gumia, City Treasurer Mae Reyes, and Cebu City Councilor Noel Wenceslao. (CCNI/SunStar photos)

WHAT CITY HALL JUST LEARNED. The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) last March 20, 2023 informed the Cebu City Government, through Mayor Mike Rama that DBM has approved the city's budget for 2023 for P47.703 billion but rejected P300 million of the original appropriation measure submitted last January.

That was disclosed by City Budget Officer Marietta L. Gumia at the City Council's budget hearing on a supplemental budget held Tuesday, March 21, 2023. The 2023 budget "substantially complied" with requirements of the law, DBM said, but the P300 million for the city's disaster office exceeded the amount allotted under its annual investment plan.

Despite the slash, the 2023 budget is still a whooping and unprecedented amount, compared to past budgets of the City, which had the highest sum of only P12 billion in 2022. And that's only about P3 billion less than what Mayor Rama and his key persons have been touting as the amount needed for its goal to make Cebu City "Singapore-like."

GOOD NEWS, OR WHAT? Congratulations, Councilor Noel Wenceslao, chairman of the City Council committee on finance, said, responding to the news from budget chief Mayette Gumia at the hearing.

But Councilor Mary Ann de los Santos (BOPK) asked Gumia, “Wait, where do we get the rest of the funds, the P32 billion more to cover the P47 billion budget? What happens to the projects for which all that money has been allotted?”

Minority Floor Leader Nestor Archival Sr. told Gumia he was confused ("forgive my confusion"): If the money wouldn't be raised -- and he said he was sure it wouldn't be -- "what will happen, where are we heading?"

WHAT SOUNDED AND LOOKED CLEAR ENOUGH. Kons de los Santos asked Budget chief Gumia and City Treasurer Mare Vae F. Reyes for the real score ("Let's simplify" "Tell me, deep in your heart, do you believe the City can raise the money..." ). Kons Archival urged the two city officials -- and possibly the rest of the executive branch: "Di na lang ta mag-plastikay").

After those appeals came these admissions from the two finance officials:

[1] The treasurer's office cannot collect the revenue required to fund the projects under the P47 billion 2023 budget, with nine months or so left. Treasurer Reyes's figures on collection up to March 15, 2023, and treasury's collection record in past years, must indicate that.

Treasurer Reyes didn't say "absolutely or totally no," but she said "yes (sic), we cannot (collect the targeted amount)," without the revision of tax rates and reassessment/ revalidation of properties.

[2] What will happen: An item in the 2023 budget will be spent only when fund is certified as available and only up to 75 percent; beyond that, a City Council approval shall be required. That condition, which Kons Wenceslao and Treasurer Reyes call "colatilla," assures that money that's not collected cannot be spent and only 75 percent of the available money shall be spent, unless otherwise approved by the Sanggunian.

Meantime, budget chief Gumia said, department heads are urged to spend on essentials first. Whatever, the "colatilla" of spending based on actual collection will apply. And the mayor's office may keep scouting for partnerships with and donations from the private sector.

HOW IT IMPACTS ON 'SINGAPORE-LIKE' PLAN. The much-trumpeted ambition to do in one year a three-year workload under the Rama administration cannot be done, as may be inferred from the disclosures of budget chief Gumia and treasury head Reyes.

Money that can't be collected and thus can't be spent in 2023 may be re-budgeted in succeeding years, said Gumia.

What's the point then of approving a colossal budget, much or most of which can't be realized, because the money for it is just, as Kons de los Santos put, "simply not there?"

MAY JUST BE A PUSH, AN IMPETUS. Mayor Rama may just be setting the large, seemingly unattainable goal, for City Hall to aim higher and work harder, to dream big and do a lot more than the usual.

If the councilors believe their finance officers, the budget chief and the treasurer are now "doing their best," which may be more appreciated if they didn't do so in the past years.

Rama could be just making a lot of hype, which could be satisfying still to many people if he'd get done half the things he has advertised.

IS OVER-BUDGETING OK THEN? The DBM approved the 2023 P47 billion budget that De los Santos and number of people call "unrealistic, impractical" budget and confounded Archival and others.

That means, DBM doesn't consider as illegal, irregular or foolish for a local government to budget a large amount for a coming year's spending, knowing it cannot go anywhere close to the targeted amount.

DBM has no comment on the city's alleged trip to dreamland; at least neither the budget chief nor the city treasurer said so in their talk with the City Council.


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