Senate body uncovers P7.5B in ‘ghost’ farm-market roads
Like the 2004 fertilizer scam, multiplied 10 times.
A Senate oversight committee has unearthed records showing that P7.5 billion from the Department of Agriculture was released from January to June 2010, an election period, Senate finance committee chairman Franklin Drilon said Sunday.
Trouble is, the farm-to-market roads, supposed to be constructed using the money, do not exist.
“We gathered evidence showing that before the change of administration, P7.5 billion was released without a program of work, but we could not identify the farm-to-market roads they were supposedly used for,” Drilon said in an interview.
The senator said the irregularity was discovered during a routine hearing of the Senate oversight committee on public expenditures earlier this month.
He said the agriculture department submitted records of its expenses and the funds it received at the time.
“We discovered that between January 1 and June 30, 2010, the department released P7.5 billion for farm-to-market roads. The thing is, this happened during the election period so we are not sure whether the money went to farm-to-pocket roads or roads-to-my-farm,” Drilon jokingly said.
The senator added, however, that the oversight committee was still investigating where the funds went.
But in response to text questions, Drilon said that so far, it appeared that nothing happened. “We could not identify the new roads nor which districts received the funding. But what is clear is that the money has already disappeared,” he said.
Drilon said he raised the issue during the hearing on the agriculture department’s proposed budget for 2012.
Responding to the allegations, former Agriculture Secretary and current Bohol Representative Arthur Yap said he found Drilon’s claim “intriguing” considering the strict preaudit procedures of the Commission on Audit (COA).
“First of all, COA preaudit procedures require work and financial plans to accompany any download of funds to the regional offices,” Yap said in a text message.
“Without work and finished plans, authorizations to spend cannot be transferred to regional offices for implementation. Second, when funds are sent to the regional offices for implementation, these funds are either bid out or implemented through local government units or the Department of Public Works and Highways. Only 15 percent is released for infra projects subject to audit before the next tranches are released.”
Yap said that if these projects were not completed despite the stringent preaudit requirements, “we must locate them and settle accountabilities.”
To locate roads funded by its annual budget, the agriculture department said during the hearings that it had started using technology, specifically GPS (global positioning system).
“The department says it is using GPS to make sure there will be no duplication of farm-to-market roads, unless some quarters insist on building flyovers on top of previous farm-to-market roads,” Drilon said.
“At this point, we do not want to come to any conclusion,” he added.
“But we are worried that after having the fertilizer scam where funds of the agriculture department were used, here comes another one,” the senator said.
Drilon was referring to the P728-million fertilizer fund scam in which farmers’ funds were allegedly diverted by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for her 2004 campaign.
Collect unused funds
Drilon said the discovery of missing funds of the agriculture department was a new argument in support of efforts by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to collect all unused funds for salaries of government agencies, including constitutional bodies, under the Miscellaneous Personnel Benefit Fund (MPBF).
Funds kept in the MPBF could be released “automatically” only when the vacancies are filled, the senator said.
“There are complaints that the MPBF is very strict, but experience tells us that we need to initiate this process. The past administration released funds even without programs of work. That’s why many of the funds disappeared because they were released despite the absence of specific plans to use them for,” Drilon said.
The MPBF came under fire after Senator Joker Arroyo blamed “evil geniuses” in the Aquino administration for introducing a special provision in the 2012 proposed budget that would allow the DBM to gather all unused funds for vacant positions in 2011.
Senator Arroyo said the unused funds would add up to P101 billion, which would serve as a new pork barrel for President Aquino.
That the unused salaries in constitutional agencies are included in the fund violates the “essence of fiscal autonomy,” he added. With a report from Gil C. Cabacungan Jr.
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