COA faults NIA again for 5th straight year
MANILA, Philippines — For the fifth straight year under the Duterte administration, the Commission on Audit (COA) has again called out the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) for more multibillion-peso irregularities, including a China-funded irrigation project in Kalinga and Cagayan provinces.
In its 2020 audit report, the COA said the NIA awarded 841 contracts, worth P6.579 billion, to various contractors with deficient documents, including nondisclosure of project cost and percentage of accomplishment, among others, in violation of Republic Act No. 9184, or the Government Procurement Reform Act.
It was the fifth consecutive year that government auditors reported adverse findings in the management of the NIA, now headed by retired Army Gen. Ricardo Visaya, who was Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff for a few months in 2016.
Visaya is backed by a board of directors that is chaired by Cabinet Secretary Karlo Alexei Nograles with Visaya as cochair and lawyer Michelle Raymundo as corporate secretary.
Measly increase in irrigation
The agency’s directors are Public Works Secretary Mark Villar, Economic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua and private sector representative Gregorio Sarmiento.
When Visaya was named administrator, the agency was already under scrutiny because of the measly increase in irrigation coverage despite the P260 billion that Congress had appropriated to the NIA from 2009 to 2019.
The figures have not changed significantly since and the COA instead reported significant delays and slippages in 82 projects, worth P4.54 billion, plus 25 contracts costing P6 billion in 2016.
1,023 delayed projects
Government auditors reported more delays in 436 irrigation contracts and projects with an aggregate value of P11.94 billion in 2017. The following year, the COA said the lack of proper management delayed the completion of 299 irrigation projects, worth P20.7 billion.
In 2019, the COA reported that mismanagement resulted in delays to 288 projects, costing P10.1 billion, spurring Sen. Ralph Recto to demand that concerned officials solve the problems of the agency, which is “vital to putting food on the Filipino family’s table.”
Yet, the COA reported the same problems in its audit for 2020 and lamented that the problems have even gotten worse.
“It bears to emphasize that compared to last year’s report of 339 contracts, the reported 841 contracts during the year increased by 502 contracts, or 148.08 percent, which is attributed to the work arrangement of personnel due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the COA said.
The irregular contracts included three contracts for the Chico River Pump Irrigation Project, which had incomplete documentary and eligibility requirements.
The uncompleted P4.37-billion Chico River irrigation project was the first flagship infrastructure project to be financed by China under President Duterte’s “Build, Build, Build” program and started in 2018.
The Chico river project, funded by a soft loan from the China Exim Bank, was meant to irrigate 7,530 hectares in Tuao and Piat, Cagayan, and 1,170 ha in Pinukpuk, Kalinga, benefitting 4,350 families.