OFFICIALS should avoid making “premature announcements” about bonuses for Cebu City Hall employees, the City Council’s budget and finance committee urged Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024.
This, after the committee observed that every time an announcement is made on the grant of bonuses to City Hall employees, loan sharks prey on some employees desperate for cash and charge relatively high interest rates.
“It is therefore strongly suggested that premature announcements of future bonuses be avoided up until the final moment to deter this abhorrent and immoral practice,” reads a portion of the committee report crafted by Cebu City Councilor James Anthony Cuenco, committee member.
During the flag ceremony on Oct. 23, 2023, Cebu City Vice Mayor Raymond Alvin Garcia, on behalf of Mayor Michael Rama, announced that regular and casual employees, as well as elected officials, would get a P35,000 Christmas bonus, a considerable jump from 2022’s P20,000 bonus.
Cuenco, on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024, observed that weeks before the actual deliberation on the P35,000 bonus, many employees had already taken out loans from loan sharks that charge “very high interest rates” (five percent to 10 percent per month).
It was only on Dec. 13 that the Council approved the second supplemental budget (SB 2) amounting to P337.9 million, which covered the cash incentives for City Hall employees — at only P20,000 for regular and casual employees and P5,000 as gratuity pay for job order (JO) employees.
On Dec. 19, Rama urged the council to reconsider their decision, expressing concern over the granting of only P5,000 to job order employees and P20,000 to regular and casual employees, which he deemed “unfair.”
Cuenco explained why the council approved bonuses that were lower than what the mayor had asked for.
According to the committee report, it turned out that the executive department asked for another supplemental budget amounting to P95 million, which was submitted to the Council on Dec. 19, but this was described by the committee as a “repetition” and a “rehash” of the approved SB 2.
“No new issues nor cogent or compelling arguments were cited in supplemental budget no. 3 that would suffice to convince the council to modify or amend its earlier decision on SB 2,” reads a portion of the committee report.
During the Dec. 22 session of the council, when SB 3 was discussed, Councilor Noel Wenceslao, committee on budget and finance chairman, was not available. Thus, the executive department’s request was referred to Cuenco.
“As a member of the committee, the procedure that we follow whenever a proposal is brought before the committee, especially on budget matters, is we hold a hearing among members of the local finance committee to hear out more. Most especially, we were expecting that they would tell us the reason, a compelling reason why we should change our minds regarding the previously approved budget of P20,000 per regular and casual employees and P5,000 for the job order,” Cuenco said.
Cuenco said they did not have time to deliberate on the matter, which prompted Councilor Jocelyn Pesquera to move that the different departments in City Hall submit their accomplishment reports to justify the approval of the additional amount.
According to the same committee report, considering that calendar year 2023 has already passed, the council’s action on SB 3 can now be considered “moot and academic, and further budget hearings on the matter are deemed unnecessary and a waste of government resources.”
“The schedule was really tight and we could not hold... We could not schedule a budget hearing for lack of time and we found that there was no compelling reason why we should proceed and change our minds regarding the request,” Cuenco said.
Citing the Department of Budget and Management 2016 Budget Operations Manual for Local Government Units, Wenceslao said, “The Sanggunian cannot pass an Appropriation Ordinance covering a supplemental budget for the current year after Dec. 31.”