Colmenares: Maharlika Wealth Fund a monster that cannot be controlled

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 5) — A former congressman on Monday expressed concern that some members of the House of Representatives are insisting on passing the bill creating a sovereign wealth fund before the 19th Congress adjourns on Dec. 17 even amid calls from other lawmakers to further study it.

“This is really a monster that cannot be controlled by any of our regulatory restrictions,” Bayan Muna Party-list Chairman Neri Colmenares told CNN Philippines’ The Source.

House Bill 6398, or the proposed Maharlika Investment Fund Act was filed by House Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, senior deputy majority leader and Ilocos Norte Rep. Sandro Marcos, and four other lawmakers. It seeks to establish a sovereign wealth fund for the Philippines to accrue profits of government assets.

Of the ₱250 billion initial investment, half will be sourced from the Government Service Insurance System (₱125 billion), while the rest will be from the Social Security System (₱50 billion), Land Bank of the Philippines (₱50 billion), and Development Bank of the Philippines (₱25 billion).

“The fund is opaque and therefore stealable kasi (because) it has really no sufficient safeguards at all,” Colmenares said, noting that the bill itself states that funds invested by government financial institutions (GFI) “shall be exempt from any regulatory restrictions” if invested solely to the fund.

This means that regulatory policies like the Procurement Act, GOCC Governance Act, Civil Service Rules, review of the Office of the Government Corporate Council, and the rules on governing the disposal of government assets will not apply to the Maharlika Wealth Fund, he said.

Even if the proponents say the Commission on Audit will scrutinize the fund, it will be useless since the basis of the agency to do its job, like the policies mentioned, are not applicable to the Maharlika fund, Colmenares added.

He also noted that the fund is not going to be accessible for scrutiny by the public, who are its main contributors.

Section 35 of the proposed measure states that “records on the [Maharlika Investments Corporation] pertaining to its investment activities shall be secured and maintained pursuant to the rules of the National Archives of the Philippines. Access to the records shall be upon approval of the Board of Directors or by express provision of the law.”

Colmenares also said the bill is prone to abuse since it does not provide clear guidance on how investment decisions will be made. He also questioned the target of the House of Representatives to approve the bill on third and final reading by Dec. 12.

Hindi pwedeng may lack of accountability and transparency yung batas. At itong pag-fast track nila ng batas (The law cannot have lack of accountability and transparency. And this fast tracking of the law) itself only shows that the leadership of the House is not really on transparency and accountability, as if they didn’t want the public to study the bill and for the opposition to pose questions,” he said.

Colmenares said under the current context where corruption is rampant, and checks and balances are almost non-existent, such kind of funding will not be a good move for the country.

He added that anyone can question the proposed measure before the Supreme Court, which he is ready to do.

“We will see the final law itself. Ano ba yung tinanggal nila (What did they remove). Did they listen to the people but we will question this law kasi (because) these are not only issues of violation of the charters of the GSIS, SSS, and GFI, for example, but it’s also possible na may unconstitutionality ito (that this has unconstitutionality),” he said.