P21-billion proposed CCT budget unrealistic

Published by rudy Date posted on November 5, 2010

The objections of some opposition congressmen to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD)’s proposed P21-billion Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) budget are largely on the question of absorption capability rather than on policy. At the end of the three-year period in 2010, the P3 billion program that was started by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo sometime in 2007, was considered a resounding success. Some 900,000 poorest of the poor families benefited from it. The number of enrolled families has reached 1 million as of this date, according to DSWD. It’s a good thing the Aquino government decided to continue the program.

Despite the assurance of Secretary Dinky Soliman on the soundness of the CCT, some sectors remain skeptical. Do we have enough classrooms and health centers to accommodate the projected increase in the number of enrollees? What about accountability? How does the government propose to monitor and audit disbursements? How many qualified employees will the DSWD need to oversee the program?

Some call the CCT a “dole out” that feeds on the poor’s deplorable habit of refusing to find employment in favor of welfare. Instead of giving them fish, why not teach them how to fish? so goes the argument. Fine, except that how do we do that, when for the poor, every meal is a “battle” for the next.

If the infrastructure requirements are met, I am for the Conditional Cash Transfer. It certainly is an original idea. It was first introduced in Mexico by President Ernesto Zedillo. It was called Progresa (Progress). President Vicente Fox, Zedillo’s successor, changed its name to Oportuni-dades (Opportunities).

In her 2008 New York Times Magazine article titled, “A Payoff Out Of Poverty,” Tina Rosenberg said that when the program was first presented to the Cabinet by Santiago Levy, Finance undersecretary, Fox’s cabinet called it “nuts.” It was Levy, upon the invitation of President Zedillo, who had put together the CCT. At that time, Mexico’s economy had plunged to the pits. Levy, noting that all anti-poverty programs had failed, decided to try a bold, uncharted initiative “designed to break the cycle of poverty and keep the poor from transmitting that culture to their children.”

In the NYT Magazine article Rosenberg wrote, she quotes the celebrated anthropologist Oscar Lewis (author of “Five Families: Mexican Case Studies in the Culture of Poverty” and “Children Sanchez” and a Leftist), putting the onus on cultural factors that chain the poor in abject poverty: “machismo, authoritarianism, marginalization from organized civic life, high rates of abandonment of illegitimate children, alcoholism, disdain for education, fatalism, passivity, inability to defer gratification and a time orientation fixed firmly on the present.”

The CCT had a rough sailing when it was first presented to the Mexican cabinet. Some members were fearful that the money intended for the poor would be “frittered away on alcohol.” Others questioned the logistical requirements needed to distribute the money to the remote villages. Some objections were politically motivated. Cabinet members, highly protective of their turfs, suddenly felt insecure. And that’s when Levy, according to Rosenberg, “decided to run a pilot program without telling anybody.”

One important characteristic of the Mexican CCT program was the independence from domestic political interference so that local politicians could use the funds to influence or “extort political support” from its beneficiaries. The Mexican model was so successful that many countries, including the United States, took notice. It has empowered the poor by molding them into becoming good citizens and responsible members of society.

One of the most pronounced effects of the CCT in Mexico was in education, according to Ro-senberg’s article. The model’s successes ignited an interest in the United States, particularly in New York City, where Mayor Michael Bloomberg adopted it with a passion. The mayor and some donors bankrolled the CCT program. Some 5,000 families were enrolled initially when it was introduced in the Big Apple.

It would be a pity if our version of the CCT would be derailed by Secretary Soliman’s failure to enlighten our leaders in Congress owing to apparent lack of preparation. The P21 billion she is asking Congress is not so much the point. The budget could be higher or lower, depending on our capability to absorb the increase in the number of target enrollees for 2011.

When she was grilled in Congress, it was obvious from her answers that the P21 billion for 2.3 million families (including the 1 million already enrolled) in 2011 was not based on historical facts, much less on ground realities. My information was that the DSWD directors were unprepared to deal with the knotty issues of absorption capability at the Congress for the budget hearing.

Missed at the time of the hearing were the recommendations of the Departments of Health and Education on how they can accommodate the surge in the number of both the current and new enrollees if the CCT budget were increased to P21 billion. I am almost certain that the current number of health centers and classrooms cannot accommodate the increased number of beneficiaries forecast by Soliman. That said, how many more classrooms and health centers should be constructed? And more important, do the DepEd and DOH have the money to build schools and health centers to house the CCT beneficiaries?

No disrespect, but shouldn’t Soliman have settled those issues first before she went to Congress to ask for a hefty P21 billion budget for the CCT?
According to my sources, the DepEd and the DOH are still hammering out the final numbers and the other attendant requirements for the implementation of the CCT initiative for next year.

I have no quarrel with Cabinet members who want to do a makeup job for their departments or even for themselves. What I am against is the way Soliman is trying to pull the wool over our eyes. Knowing fully well that there’s a dearth of classrooms and health centers, and that the DepEd and the DOH could hardly keep up with the present challenges, Soliman plowed ahead and sought a giant increase for the CCT project, unmindful of the unpreparedness of the two departments.

To repeat, I support the CCT program for the poor. I have no issue with the P21 billion budget as long as the new entrants can be accommodated in our schools and health centers and the disbursements monitored and audited properly. The way things stand, Soliman must have wanted to impress President Noynoy Aquino with ambitious figures—P21 billion for 2.3 million family beneficiaries.

I am afraid that if she fails to get her proposed budget passed in Congress, she would blame everybody, except herself, for her incompetence, for rushing her plans. To paraphrase, former NEDA Sec. Romy Neri, “Soliman should moderate her pagpapapogi.” –DR. DANTE A. ANG, Manila Times

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