Saturday, November 27, 2021

Malilong: Delute’s move and the city’s finances

IS IT a promise or an obligation?

Included in this year’s Cebu City budget is an item for cash assistance to senior citizens in the total amount of P720 million. Like all other allocations, the financial aid was based on the assurance of the city treasurer that enough funds were available for the purpose.

City Hall has already paid, on installments, P7,000 of the P12,000 that they committed to give each of the city’s estimated 60,000 elderly. The payment of the balance of P5,000 each has not been scheduled yet and, with the end of the year approaching, one senior citizen decided it was time to send city officials a demand letter.

Mayor Michael Rama is expectedly miffed. “Ngano gud tawon nga mao may magbuot and laing tawo,” he asks.

Lawyer Reymelio Delute, the person Rama was referring to, isn’t amused either. If the mayor fails to execute a clear mandate, it is dereliction of duty, Delute told Frankahay Ta yesterday morning.

In Delute’s view, the inclusion of the financial assistance in the 2014 budget created an obligation which the mayor has to perform as a ministerial duty. In other words, Rama doesn’t have the discretion to choose whether or not to release the cash aid to the beneficiaries and, if to be given, when.

Not so, the mayor replied. It is his sole prerogative to choose how and when the aid is given, he said, supporting his treasurer’s opinion that the cash aid is a
privilege, not a right.

The treasurer, Diwa Cuevas, had earlier claimed that “(an) appropriation is just an appropriation. Everything still depends on the availability of funds.”

But that is precisely the point insofar as Delute is concerned. Cuevas certified that P720 million was available for cash assistance this year and it was on the strength of that certification that the council approved this item in the budget. If she says now that funds are not in fact available, isn’t she guilty of falsification, Delute asked.

I would not be surprised if Cuevas responds by saying that in budgeting, everything is based on assumptions. When a treasurer says that there are sufficient funds for a particular purpose, he or she does not make any absolute guarantees but merely promises to exert best efforts to raise the money from identified sources.

Cuevas’s best efforts have obviously not been enough. With less than a month left of the year, she has been able to collect only P4.3 billion so far. That is P1.5 billion short of her target of P5.8 billion.

That brings us to the issue of the credibility of the treasurer’s estimates on revenue targets. During the deliberations on the current budget, some councilors observed that Cuevas’s calculations on how much money she could raise during the year were unrealistic. The treasurer assured them that the amount was attainable. Still unconvinced, the council slashed Rama’s budget.

They did right, that is obvious now. How could have a collection of P4.3 billion supported the more than P10 billion budget that Rama proposed?

Rama bristles at accusations from his predecessor and archenemy, Tomas Osmena that the city’s finances are being mismanaged. The city is financially healthy, he declares with vehemence.

Most people dismissed Osmeña’s accusations as politically-motivated. But in the light of Cuevas’s disclosure of the revenue shortfall coupled with the city’s difficulty in paying the seniors’ cash aid, shouldn’t we be wondering if Osmeña has been telling the truth all along?

As the Tagalogs are wont to say, ano ba talaga, kuya?

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