Seares: Mayor Rama may no longer seek but can still get bullet-proof car under 2024 budget. P1 each outlay for motor vehicles requested by more than 20 City Hall offices cut. Palaro allotted P200M, Sinulog P80M in P500M budget for 2024 city-sponsored activities.

Seares: Mayor Rama may no longer seek but can still get bullet-proof car under 2024 budget. P1 each outlay for motor vehicles requested by more than 20 City Hall offices cut. Palaro allotted P200M, Sinulog P80M in P500M budget for 2024 city-sponsored activities.
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THREE days before the last working day of the year, the Cebu City Council approved the general appropriations budget for 2024, with amendments that raised the earlier amount voted for: from P22 billion to P25.18 billion or by almost P5 billion.

 Far short of the P100 billion Mayor Michael Rama wanted and still smaller than the P50 billion the Sanggunian earlier decided as spending cap for next year.

Here are takeaways from the passage of the amendments to the 2024 budget under Ordinance #2730 in the Sanggunian’s Wednesday, December 27, 2023 session:

[1] APPROVAL WAS UNANIMOUS or, more precisely, with no objection, thus voting or dividing the house wasn’t done. But that unity might not hold if there’s any attempt to override a possible veto.

If Mayor Michael Rama would veto the entire ordinance or some parts or items, the City Council could override the veto, basing on the vote that passed it. But more likely, it wouldn’t go to “override” mode since the mayor, as Barug party leader, could crack the whip for the Barug councilors to toe the line. Or, as in the recent instances of veto went, the councilors might opt not to push it.

[2] AMOUNT RAISED TO CORRECT ERRORS. The budget of about P22 billion the City Council approved the week before was increased on final reading to a total of P25.8 billion, comprising of P23.779 billion for the general fund and P2.054 billion for special accounts.

The grand total is much less than the P100 billion Mayor Rama wanted and proposed and still less than the P50 billion ceiling (“not more than P50 billion”) the City Council adopted in its earlier deliberation.

[RELATED: Majority leader Joy Pesquera rants over “bloating, bloating, bloating” of city’s P100 billion 2024 budget, December 14, 2023.]

The reason for the increase wasn’t any pressure from the executive department but to correct errors, sponsors Councilors Noel Wenceslao and Jocelyn Pesquera said,  in the appropriations for the DRRM or disaster risk reduction and management office and CLO or City Legal Office.

[3] TARGET OF CUTS TO ONE PESO: CARS. What look like the principal target of mass slashing are motor vehicles requested by departments and programs.

At least 25 departments/offices/programs requested for motor vehicles, mostly for only one vehicle, a few for two or more vehicles. Information from City Hall doesn’t specify the number of units; there’s a suggestion of more than one by the “s” in “motor vehicles” or the amount specified. DPS listed four items with varying amounts: P100,000; P1.2 million, P3.7 million, P10.4 million. The peace and order program asked for P65 million for “motor vehicle” (minus the “s” and no number of units specified).

The common element is the reduction to one peso for each item. At least two requests didn’t get a peso, just reduced amounts:

The city’s anti-mendicancy office asked for P4 million for a motor vehicle; it got P2 million. The city transportation office wanted P12.8 million for motor vehicle, was granted P3 million.

"Victims" of the action against requests for motor vehicles included offices and programs under the wing of the mayor, such as the wildlife protection office, coastline management, Garbo sa Asenso Sumbanan Alyansa (Gasa), tax collection project (“Sayaw sa Buhis”), seniors office, coastline management, Cebuano cinema development, Oplan Displina, Fort San Pedro development, women’s & family affairs commission, and Probe. And many others at City Hall that asked for motor vehicles, including offices such as human resources, city planning & development, civil registrar, general services, and the treasury. The treasurer, whose office collects the revenue to fund the budget, asked for P7.5 million but got only one peso.

Ordinance sponsors Councilors Wenceslao and Pesquera didn’t explain the apparent aversion to purchase of motor vehicles and information technology equipment. Requests for the latter were, as a rule, reduced or also flattened to one peso.

[4] HAS MAYOR ABANDONED PLAN TO GET LAND CRUISER? Last December 5, Mayor Mike, in a live feed from Australia to City Hall media, said he was “OK with or without “ the P10.32 million bullet-proof, bomb-proof sports utility vehicle, most likely a Land Cruiser. He’s “fine if it won’t push through.”

[RELATED: Explainer: Mayor Rama wants bullet-proof, bomb-proof SUV, December 4, 2023.]

The appropriation for the mayor’s vehicle could be in another ordinance filed separately by Councilor Wenceslao. In that ordinance, one “whereas” called the car “essential” for the mayor’s job. When I asked the councilor last Wednesday, December 27, he said, “There’s an appropriation for a Land Cruser. Puwede na ma-purchase niya.” But it seems the mayor won’t go ahead with the purchase. Wenceslao said, “Akong nahibaw-an mora’g dili na niya ipadayon og purchase.”

Assuming the purchase is already authorized by the City Council, there are other things the mayor might consider:

(a) Approval of DILG (Department of the Interior and Local Government) or Office of the President. The letter request for approval, signed by the mayor, was addressed to the DILG regional director. The approval may exempt the car from the ban, imposed by then president Gloria Arroyo in an administrative order of 2008, on the purchase of “luxurious vehicles.”

(b) Public response to the plan. There’s no gauge of public opinion on the issue; thus the mayor takes some risk on whatever backlash it might cause, with 2024 already the run-up to the next elections.

[5] P500 MILLION FOR CITY-SPONSORED ACTIVITIES. Topped by Palarong Pambansa, P200 million; Sinulog, P80 million; Charter Day, P15 million, Christmas. P15 million, Teachers Day P10 million, other activities, P80 million.

That’s a total of P400 million out of the P500 million allotted for city-sponsored activities. It would’ve enough money to keep some activity or another going throughout the year, sustaining the festive air at City Hall and other places in the city. There’s already P80 million set aside for “other activities.” Plus the balance of P100 million to pay for other still-unidentified and as-yet-unnamed activities that City Hall may opt to support in 2024.

[6] THEY CALL IT ‘COLATILLA’ (also spelled “coletilla”) which, by popular local usage, refers to a condition or qualifier, the small print in a contract or ordinance. The funds allotted by the City Council may be spent by the office or project under an account specified but, if it’s a lump sum or an augmentation from another source, the City Council must give its approval.

Sanggunian approval before spending is supposed to protect the money. For example, it doesn’t allow the purchase of a car now for a certain department or project. What’s allowed? The mayor may move money from another account to it but the City Council must approve the transfer and purpose.

Section 8 of the budget ordinance says the mayor or the Sanggunian presiding officer concerned shall be authorized under the ordinance “to augment any item” any item in the approved budget for their respective offices from savings in other items “within the same expense class of their respective appropriations.” Augmentation from lump-sum appropriations and all capital outlay lump-sum accounts, including motor vehicles and information & communications technology accounts, “shall likewise require approval” from the City Council.

And charges against the city-sponsored activities, which carry a total of P500 million in the budget, “shall require an enabling resolution “ from the Sanggunian. While the mayor has the discretion to pick the activities to sponsor, other than those already identified and named, all charges against the fund require to be approved by the City Council before they are paid.

[7] THE RUSH BEFORE DEADLINE. If you wonder how much study went into the making of the 2024 general appropriations budget, think of the proposal submitted by the executive department to the Saggunian: The budget was supposed to be the product of a number of stages, starting with the proposals submitted by each office to the executive department.

The version filed with the City Council, based on recommendations of department and office managers, underwent public hearings, in which they defended the budget. The committee on budget and finance then submitted a report to the Sanggunian en banc, where individual councilors, with their respective consultants, were expected to share knowledge and experience with colleagues in order to improve the final piece of legislation.

The process may have been upset though when the proposed total amount was seen by the City Council as unrealistic and impractical. The P100 billion figure that they worked with -- from preparation to budget hearings to second reading -- was later reduced by the City Council to “not more than P50 billion,” prompting the last-minute rush to slash, slash and slash, preceded by the charge of “bloating, bloating and bloating.”

An inevitable public perception is that of confusion, which may spill over into the phase of implementation. And could people at the treasurer’s office suspend disbelief on the question of collecting the needed money, and the implementors, on the matter of finishing the projects before the end of 2024 or even the term of the elected officials?


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