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Saturday, November 19, 2011

Participating in public finance now fashionable – Social Watch /United Nations study

The Filipinos’ demand and interest for citizens’ participation in public finance has been increasing for the last five years; and as citizens’ participation is enthusiastically encouraged, it is perceived as part of fashionable global trends. This was the result of a study conducted by Social Watch Philippines’ (SWP) lead convenor and former national treasurer Leonor Magtolis Briones with the support of the United Nations Development Programme.

“The general impression is that the field of public finance is the exclusive domain of experts, particularly economists and finance geniuses. True, calculating income from taxes, preparing budgets and projecting borrowings is highly technical. However, it should never be forgotten that taxes are extracted from the people, government services are intended for them, and in the end they pay for government borrowings,” Briones said.

According to the study, government agencies think that citizens’ participation is largely information sharing. The Bureau of Internal Revenue, for example, views citizens’ participation as a feedback mechanism from taxpayers to improve revenue collection. On the other hand, civil society organizations associate citizens’ participation with empowerment and integrity, and not just information sharing.

“As a child from the province, I grew up thinking that government was this all-powerful, all-pervasive, omnipotent force which had us all citizens in its benevolent grip. I always assumed that government had inexhaustible sources of money. It constructed school buildings, built roads, and paid the salaries of my schoolteacher parents. It did not occur to me to ask where the funds of government were coming from. It was only when I was already studying taxation as a college student that I realized that the government’s money came from the people, especially the tax payers,” Briones said.

“Now, because of the campaigns for citizens-government partnership in formulating the annual budgets, such as the Alternative Budget Initiative or ABI which started in 2006, people from all walks of life are aware that the money of the people is money for the people,” Briones said. “The results of the study should remind policymakers and those in government not to forget that citizens’ participation is indispensable to insure that both burdens and benefits are shared democratically,” she added.

A hundred and fifty representatives of civil society organizations, faith-based institutions, private sector organizations, professional associations and educational institutions from Central and Southern Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao attended the presentation of the study held recently at the Holiday Inn at Clarkfield, Pampanga. UNDP Philippines Country Director Renaud Meyer also attended the event which was titled “Bantay-Kaban: Kaban ng Bayan, Bantayan! A National Conference on Citizen’s Participation in Public Finance”. The event was organized by SWP with the Civil Service Commission.

“This is a historic event because this is the first time we are discussing public finance as an interconnected practice and examining citizen participation in public finance as a whole,” Briones said. “When I took my first course in public finance forty-two years ago as a nineteen year old student, citizen participation was unheard of and the phrase had not been invented yet. I never thought I would see the day when my two most passionate advocacies would be joined in a national conference: public finance and citizen participation. This just proves that for Filipinos, demanding people’s rights and influence on public money is now fashionable,” she said. Leonor Magtolis Briones, Social Watch Philippines

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