Solons grill DPWH over underutilized funds, delayed projects
MANILA, Philippines — Several lawmakers questioned on Friday the underutilized funds and delayed projects of the Department of Works and Highways (DPWH).
During the House appropriations committee’s briefing on the proposed P718.36 billion budget of the DPWH for 2023, Iloilo City Rep. Julienne Baronda asked about the current budget obligation rate of the agency.
DWPH Secretary Manuel Bonoan said that for the Fiscal Year 2021, P642.8 billion, or 94 percent of its investments, had been committed, but only P395.7 billion, or 58 percent, had been paid out.
And for the Fiscal Year 2022, he said that P732.1 billion, or 90 percent of the budget, had been spent, but only P296.6 billion, or 37 percent, had been paid out so far.
“While it’s true that the disbursement rate at this point in time seems to be a little low, I am confident that we will be able to maintain the same absorptive capacity of 90 percent by the end of the year,” Bonoan said.
He clarified though that the DPWH may only be able to commit nearly 95 percent of the 2022 budget.
According to him, the department has requested the release of cash obligations from the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) for several of its payables.
Quick response fund
Baronda also inquired about the “unobligated and undisbursed” quick response fund (QRF) of the DPWH.
“Although the funding for QRF under General Appropriations Act (GAA) of 2020 amounting to P2.6 billion, may disbursement rate po kayo na 71 percent. Second replenishment of QRF under Bayanihan 2, amounting to P1.8 billion, has a disbursement rate merely of 20 percent, whereas the QRF amounting to P1.4 billion under GAA 2021 has remained unobligated and undisbursed even at the height of COVID-19 [pandemic],” she said.
In response, Bonoan said that as of August 31, the QRF received by the DPWH is around P5.5 billion. The agency has obligated P5.498 billion from this figure and disbursed about P4.274 billion.
Delayed, unfunded projects
Baronda pointed out that Iloilo City’s comprehensive drainage plan, which needs funding of P6.2 billion, has been in limbo after receiving only about P500 million in four years.
Bonoan then assured the congresswoman that the DPWH would seek to provide the additional budget required to complete the project.
Meanwhile, Samar 2nd District Rep. Reynolds Michael Tan raised his concern on the “heavily damaged” Samar segment of the Maharlika highway, which, he said, is “is the worst highway in the Eastern Visayas and probably the worst in the entire country.”
“In the last decade or so, the Samar segment has remained in a perpetual state of disrepair. For next year’s proposed budget, only P3 billion was allocated for the projects involving Samar’s first and second district segment of the Maharlika highway,” he said.
The amount, according to Tan, is less than half of the funding needed to restore the highway.
Tan wanted to know how the DPWH chose which road maintenance and repair projects to prioritize, even though he understood the mistakes of former DPWH leadership were outside Bonoan’s purview.
Bonoan answered by noting that the DPWH considers the number of kilometers, the condition of the roads, and the traffic volume.
“Let me just point out a little bit that for 2022, we have a very limited budget for maintenance but we are actually trying to maintain it in the 2023 budget,” Bonoan said.
Citing the priority program of the Marcos administration to reduce transport costs, Bonoan bared the department’s objective of rehabilitating the trunk lines of the national road system.
He also mentioned that the Department of Public Works and Highways is looking into the possibility of transforming Maharlika Highway into a trunk line.
“We want to convert Daang (Highway) Maharlika as a primary trunk line of unimpeded travel from Cagayan all the way to Mindanao. This is one of our priority projects,” Bonoan added.
He further detailed the DPWH’s plan to religiously continue adhering to the maintenance requirements of roads and address the overloading problems in the country.
Unreleased, unobligated appropriations
Further dissecting the underutilized funds of the DPWH, Deputy Minority Leader Bernadette Herrera later questioned its unreleased appropriations amounting to P39 billion and unobligated allotment of P48 billion in 2021.
She also lamented the overall savings of P3.4 billion remitted by the DPWH which, she said, pains those in Congress who fought to provide sufficient funds for the government’s priority projects.
Bonoan explained that the savings came from the difference between the allocated budget for the DPWH’s projects and the cost agreed upon after the bidding process.
“This savings is a standby budgetary allocation for augmentation of other projects,” he pointed out.
Since he took over as DPWH chief, Bonoan said they had used the savings from 2021 for additional funding of its maintenance, foreign-assisted projects, and preliminary engineering requirements.
On the issue of unobligated allotment, Bonoan noted that this is “probably some of the projects awaiting releases of the SARO” or Special Allotment Release Order as it had earlier been tagged as “for later release.”
But Herrera mentioned that unreleased and unobligated allotments are different components.
With this, she instructed the DPWH to instead submit to her office the documents related to her concerns.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.