By Ben Rosario
State auditors have decried as ‘exorbitant’ and grossly disadvantageous to the government the hiring of a Filipino-Canadian consultant who was paid P11.447 million to help Department of Environment and Natural Resources in a reforestation program whose goal is to plant 1.5 billion trees over a period of five years.
Auditors who prepared the recently-released 2018 DENR Annual Audit Report also lamented the failure of the DENR to fully implement two foreign-assisted projects, causing government to pay a total P10.707 million in commitment fees to lenders.
In its compliance audit of the National Greening Program (NGP) Fund Utilization with P44.62 billion in total allocation from 2011 to 2018, the Commission on Audit noted various deficiencies in the procurement of goods and services.
There were also deficiencies in the sub-allocation of the Forest Management Bureau of funds totaling some P252 million for purposes that were not aligned with the objectives of the NGP.
Among these expenditures were the conduct of trainings, workshops and meetings, establishment of El Niño Phenomenon and Small Water Impounding System; Maricani Project and the hiring of extension officers.
“The FMB paid P11.447 million in engaging the services of a Filipino-Canadian consultant from July 2013 to June 2017 which is grossly disadvantageous to the agency,” COA reported.
The consultant, it was gathered, was tasked to help set up the five mechanized forest nurseries and 11 nurseries nationwide in support of the NGP.
The state audit agency stressed that the hiring of the services of the consultant is an “inappropriate mode of procurement”, adding that the paid amount for the services ranged from P100,000 to P385,000 monthly.
Auditors said the FMB increased the consultancy fees by at least 157 percent since the first time the consultancy contract was first awarded in 2013.
“On the fifth renewal in 2015, the contract provided for a monthly consultancy fee of P385,000, a staggering increase of 157 percent over the previous rate, which is considered exorbitant and grossly disadvantageous to the government.,” COA said.
In its audit recommendation, the COA called on the FMB to be “more circumspect in the use of NGP funds” and make sure that the allocations are used for the intended purpose.
The DENR was penalized with payment of commitment fees that totaled P10,707,776.93 due to the delay in the implementation of the Forest Management Project (FMP) and the Integrated Natural Resources and Environmental Management Project (INREMP) that were financed by foreign lending agencies.
“The continual delay in the implementation defeats the project goal of inclusive growth and poverty reduction for the INREMP and integrating conservation and development-oriented activities with full participation and capacitation of local communities for the FMP,” COA reported.
The audit agency said the delay also caused the national government P10.7 million in commitment fees on foreign direct loans.
Auditors revealed that as of December 31, 2018, the FMP and INREMP “reported cumulative physical progress of only 76.15 and 38 percent against the targets of 98.58 and 78 percent, respectively, as of December 31, 2018,” COA reported.
Launched in 2012 and expected to be completed in 2022, the FMP aims to strengthen forestland management in three critical river basins through the implementation of collaborative and comprehensive community-based forest management strategies.
On the other hand, the INREMP is a seven-year project started in 2013. It seeks to put in place a system to manage the upper river basins and component watersheds to support poverty reduction, watershed management, biodiversity, conservation and climate change policy objectives.