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‘3 new departments could cause policy chaos, budget lack’

Guillermo Luz

BUSINESS leaders warned the government on Thursday it runs the risk of being derailed by poor policy coordination and budget shortfalls in its plan to put up three new high-level agencies on disaster resilience, water resources regulation and overseas Filipinos.

Private-sector leaders told the BusinessMirror two of the three departments the government is eyeing to create are redundant with the functions of some existing agencies. Guillermo M. Luz, former private-sector cochairman of the now-defunct National Competitiveness Council, said this might result in a state of confusion between offices and their purposes.

“I think the biggest risk lies in having poor policy coordination and implementation if agencies are not synchronized nor connected,” Luz said in a text message.

“Offhand, I would say that a Department of Water Resources only makes sense if all current water agencies are rationalized and placed under a single umbrella. If this does not happen, then we run the risk of lack of coordination and policy challenges,” he explained.

Under House Bill (HB) 8068, filed by then-House Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in the 17th Congress, the Department of Water, Irrigation, Sewage and Sanitation Resource Management will be put up, rationalizing the powers and duties of the National Water Resources Board (NWRB), Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA), Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) and the National Irrigation Administration (NIA).

As a Cabinet-level agency, the department will be headed by a secretary, under whom are five undersecretaries—on finance service; administrative service; planning and engineering services; regulatory and financial assistance services; and operations—who can be aided by as many as three assistant secretaries.

Funding lack

The creation of this new bureaucracy for the management of water resources will only result in red tape and funding deficiency, according to Philippine Exporters Confederation Inc. President Sergio R. Ortiz-Luis Jr.

If the government intends to manage water resources more efficiently, Ortiz-Luis said existing agencies with such function can be transferred to the Office of the President (OP) under the direct supervision of the Chief Executive. This way, the highest leader of the land can tweak the policy direction of these offices.

“If we can afford to create another…office with its own officials and employees, if we have spare money, then why not? Otherwise, I will not prioritize the creation of the Department of Water Resources if I were the President. Existing agencies can be transferred under the OP if the government really wants to give them additional power,” Ortiz-Luis said over the phone.

“The government should see to it that the creation of these new agencies will not put at risk funding for the important things, which are the infrastructure projects and social programs geared toward uplifting the lives of the poor,” he added.

Department for OFW

Luz said the creation of the Department of Overseas Filipino Workers is no longer necessary, as the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) is mandated to protect the interests of all laborers, including overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

“I am not yet clear on the necessity of having a Department of OFWs because we already have the DOLE plus other agencies,” Luz argued. “[I am] not sure what will happen to their roles and responsibilities in the future.”

The Department of Foreign Affairs and the Commission on Filipinos Overseas under the OP share some of the responsibilities with the DOLE in advancing the interests and protecting the welfare of Filipino migrant workers.

In setting up these proposed agencies, Ortiz-Luis asked: where will the government source the funding for their operations? He reminded the government only one of the four packages under the comprehensive tax reform program has been passed, leaving finance and budget officials with no option but to cut the funding of some departments in favor of these new agencies.

“Obviously, this will be financed by our taxes. However, I do hope the government will not be imposing additional taxes to operate these new departments. Businesses and consumers alike had just adjusted to the new taxes applied on fuel and sugar,” the business leader added.

If there is one office business leaders are in favor of putting up, it is the Department of Disaster Resilience. Luz said the creation of such is overdue, as the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) should have been abolished to pave the way for a single authority tasked to carry out the interagency function.

Republic Act 10121, the NDRRMC’s enabling law, has a sunset review provision that allows legislators to evaluate the need for the continued existence of the council five years after the effectivity of the law in 2010, or as the need arises.

“The Department of Disaster Resilience is necessary because the NDRRMC was supposed to be phased out in favor of a new agency with a fresh mandate and expanded responsibilities. I believe that such an agency should have strong private sector participation,” Luz said.

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