WITH Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama’s top lieutenants unavailable, it was up to his chief of staff to face a hostile Cebu City Council during yesterday’s budget deliberations.
The council questioned the mayor’s decision to realign P29 million out of the P30 million appropriation under the Teachers Assistance Fund as early as March 2012 for other purposes and without authority from them.
Councilor Margot Osmeña, who chairs the City Council’s budget committee, questioned Philip Zafra, Rama’s chief of staff, why the mayor wants a P10 million appropriation for the teacher’s aid fund.
“You are still asking for P10 million? (But it seems that) you don’t need it. What do you need the P10 million for if you are just going to realign it anyway?,” she asked Zafra.
City Administrator Jose Marie Poblete was attending to the concerns of senior citizens while Belinda Navasquez, the mayor’s secretary, was in the US.
The teachers fund was intended to address the concerns of public school teachers.
Zafra told the council that P10 million out of the P29 million was realigned on March 3.
Of that amount P5.2 million was used for city sponsored activities, while P3.8 million was allocated for the mayor’s discretionary fund.
About P1 million went to pay for travel expenses under the mayor’s office.
Another P5 million appropriation and P2 million were also realigned last March 21 and 29 for use in consultancy services and continuing education program.
Part of the appropriation was realigned on April 26 with P2.5 million going to Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses (MOOE).
About P7 million went to MOOE last June 7 while P1 million was appropriated for sanitation workers last Oct. 9.
Zafra was unable to provide a cost breakdown of each realignment and instead told the council that he will furnish them with the data in the next few days.
Zafra said the P5 million appropriation for continuing appropriation was a project of Navasquez while part of the June 7 realignment amounting to P0.56 million was spent on the honoraria for workers of the city’s summer job program.
“You hired more than what’s allowed,” Osmeña said, referring to this year’s summer job program which received P4 million.
She said most of the items that received the realigned funds already had appropriations in the 2012 budget.
Zafra said the realignments were done to funnel needed funds to other projects after the council reduced the 2012 executive budget.
But Osmeña said the mayor’s office used the teachers fund “like a piggy bank.”
“Like an ATM machine that if you need money, you can just withdraw from it,” the councilor said.
Osmeña said the executive department was supposed to “live within its means and not get money from somebody else’s.”
Zafra told the council that the mayor has authority to realign appropriations placed under his office.
He said the executive department also made sure that teachers won’t be deprived of their benefits.
Zafra said the mayor’s office plans to release extra cash bonuses to public school teachers to be charged to the Special Education Funds.
But Councilor Noel Wenceslao said the education funds would pay for repair and construction of school buildings.
Osmeña said the council allowed Rama to make realignments in the past “out of respect for the office of the mayor.”
She said they trusted the mayor to use the funds for their intended purpose.
“As we see now that is not the case. We don’t have to love each other. We just have to respect each other,” Osmeña said.
The council is finalizing its review of the budget ahead of this month’s deadline./ Chief of Reporters Doris C. Bongcac