The Commission on Audit (COA) on Wednesday said that the maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE) allocation was not a discretionary fund and could not be used for purposes not specified under the General Appropriations Act (GAA).
COA Chairperson Grace Pulido-Tan issued this statement in reply to a letter from Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago dated Jan. 10, questioning Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile’s use and realignment of the Senate savings as additional MOOE.
Section 63 of the GAA provides that the MOOE appropriation in the Senate may only be used for general administration and support, legislative services and operational requirements of 35 congressional commissions and oversight committees listed in the GAA, Tan said.
“Per type of expenditure, the MOOE is specified in the GAA to be used for traveling, communication, repairs and maintenance, transportation and delivery, supplies and materials, rents, utility, training and scholarship, extraordinary and miscellaneous, taxes insurance premium and other fees, professional services, printing and binding, advertising, representation, subscription, and membership duties and contribution,” Tan explained.
Santiago questioned Enrile’s release in two tranches of a total of P2.22 million each to 18 senators in November and December last year. Santiago, along with Senators Alan Peter and his sister Pia Cayetano and Antonio Trillanes IV, did not get the same amount. The four senators received P600,000 each in November but not the P1.6 million given to each of the other 18 senators in December last year.
“Should not COA enumerate what savings are valid, so as to prevent heads of offices from fusing to incur necessary expenses in order to produce savings that will be distributed among themselves at year’s end?” Santiago asked Tan.
“If an office always claims to have savings at yearend, should not the COA resident auditor be duty-bound to recommend that the next year’s appropriations for the next item be reduced?” she further asked.
Santiago said COA must enumerate which purposes are valid to prevent abuse of the savings.
Tan said Section 53 of the GAA provides that the President, the Senate President, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Supreme Court Chief Justice, the heads of constitutional commissions enjoying fiscal autonomy, and the Ombudsman are authorized to augment any item in the GAA from the savings in other items of their respective appropriations.
“Savings” is defined by Congress itself as referring to a “portion or balance of any appropriation in the GAA free from any obligation or encumbrance which are still available after the completion or final discontinuance of the work, activity, or purpose for which the appropriation is authorized,” she said.
“Considering that the law itself allows augmentation from savings and realignment of appropriations, we do not inquire into whether savings are deliberately being generated for such purposes,” Tan said.
She stressed that COA’s duty was to examine, audit and validate whether the augmentation was in fact sourced from savings; whether the requirements of law and applicable rules and regulations had been complied with in making the augmentation; and whether such additional MOOE went to the purpose specified in the GAA.
On the validity of additional MOOE at yearend, Tan said the GAA did not specify when the Senate President can or should exercise the authority “to augment any item in the GAA… from any savings in other items of the Senate’s appropriations” nor did it prescribe amounts or formula.