WHERE'S THE MONEY? 2 months after 'Yolanda', gov't yet to receive foreign pledges

Budget chief Florencio Abad means BUSINESS

MANILA - (UPDATED 10:37 p.m.) More than two months after Typhoon 'Yolanda' struck, the government has yet to receive bulk of the cash pledges made by foreign donors to help rebuild the devastated areas.

"What we heard them say at the height of the Yolanda relief operations versus what you see them now delivering by way of cash, there's a big disparity," Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said.

"I think many of them made those statements so that they can actually influence (those) back home, because you have to show the situation here," he said.

Data from the Foreign Aid Transparency Hub (FAiTH) show pledges for the reconstruction of Yolanda-hit areas reached P23.798 billion, of which P20.998 billion were in kind and the remaining P2.8 billion in cash.

Of the amount of cash pledged, only P500 million had been remitted to the government as of December 18.

Abad admitted that the government can account for money that is coursed through the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Bureau of Treasury.

"There are certain agencies, such as the United Nations, that have been putting in a lot of money in the relief and rehabilitation efforts, but it doesn't go through government. Many bilateral agencies don't necessarily go through the government," he said.

"What they directly brought to the relief operations, we don't have any record of that. That may be even much more," he said.

Abad said the government understands that any new money from foreign donors is committed at the start of the succeeding year.

"Knowing the fiscal process, it is also possible that most of their funds have already been committed since the calamity happened during the latter part of the year," he said.

"A lot of the fund raising would have to be done at the start of this year, when new funds are available. So that may likely explain the huge disparity between what we read in the papers during the height of the relief operations, versus what is now appearing in the FAiTH website," he said.

Last year, the government has released P34 billion for the immediate repair of critical infrastructure and relief operations.

Under the General Appropriations Act of 2014, the government has earmarked P20 billion for the rehabilitation and reconstruction program, and another P80 billion has been set aside as unprogrammed fund that can be tapped if needed.

Abad said the unprogrammed component should come from the loan proceeds of donors like the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

"We're hoping it will be funded by loan proceeds. If we can get ADB and the World Bank, that should cover the P80 billion," he said, adding that the two donors "promised us almost $2 billion."

"The funds are not yet with us, there needs to be a signing of a loan agreement. But they've already started the process so that the funds can be immediately released. They know it's urgent," Abad said.