After being flagged by Commission on Audit (COA) for underutilization of funds and accounting irregularities, the Department of Agriculture (DA) is now strategizing to fully utilize its budget for this year.
At the same time, the DA denied any accounting irregularity related to its fund utilization and disbursements last year.
“These are matters of documentation and procedures. We are working on all these. There are no irregularities as well as no corruption,” Agriculture Secretary William Dar said in a text exchange.
In terms of underutilization of billions of funds, Dar said “We are having strategies to fully utilize properly all budgetary support.” For this year, the DA received a budget of P71 billion.
On Wednesday, two groups, particularly Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) and Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (PAMALAKAYA), called out the DA about the findings of COA on DA’s financial highlights and operations in 2020.
Based on the COA report, there were billions of fund disbursement at DA last year that “lacked complete accounting records” and “had accounting errors/ommissions”; DA failed to utilize nearly P10 billion of its total 2020 budget; and that the Registry System for Basic Sectors in Agriculture (RSBSA), which the DA relies upon in terms of aid distribution, is unreliable.
To be specific, COA found out that of the DA’s P60.80-billion allotment for last year, only P56.2 billion was utilized. At the same time, around P5 billion meant for DA last year was not released by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) at all.
The COA report prompted KMP National Chairperson Danilo Ramos to slam the DA and Dar himself for allegedly mishandling public funds meant for Filipino farmers.
“Farmers repeatedly face crop failures and income losses due to the dumping of imports, militarist lockdowns, and extreme climate, yet Dar mishandles the already paltry agriculture budget,” Ramos said. “It is now upon the DA to prove that no corruption, plunder, or any other irregularity occurred with the disbursement of this P34 billion,” PAMALAKAYA National Chairperson Fernando Hicap also said the billions of unused funds by the DA last year were crucial to the struggling farmers and fisherfolks in the midst of a public health and economic crisis.
“The unspent funds could have addressed the worsening plight of our rural sectors enduring the onslaught of the pandemic since last year. The budget is very crucial to the rural sectors especially this was the year when aside from the government’s burdening pandemic response, natural calamities including typhoons devastated fishing and farming communities,” Hicap said. “Furthermore, farmers and fishers bear the brunt of the government’s neglect as they have limited to no access to health services and production subsidies”.
DA was sought for comments about the COA findings but it was not immediately made available.
On Thursday, however, the agency finally made a response, saying that DA, in fact, already “issued an initial reply to the COA findings”, which “were already incorporated in the Consolidated Annual Audit Report or CAAR”.
“We hope that the detractors cite also our initial reply to balance the COA findings. Further, the COA has given the DA 60 days from receipt of CAAR, within which to give updates on the findings,” DA said in a statement.
“As per DA Undersecretary for Administration and Finance Roldan Gorgonio, we received the COA report on July 2, 2021. Therefore, we still have until September 2, 2021, to satisfy the COA’s observations through our categorical replies. Since July, we have been consolidating the respective reports from our concerned DA offices and operating units, and we will submit them promptly to COA, on or before September 2,” it added.
Dar, in the said statement, proceeded to assure its “clienteles”, namely the farmers, fishers, livestock raisers, and agri-fishery industry stakeholders, and partners from the private sector, local government units, and international funding institutions, and the general public that the DA “do not and will not tolerate corruption, as we try to comply with all government accounting and auditing procedures and requirements”.
“[We] continuously pursue aboveboard our planned programs and initiatives to increase the productivity and incomes of farmers and fisherfolk, and attain a food-secure and resilient Philippines,” Dar said.
“Again, we assure our countrymen that since we assumed office in August 2019, we have not committed any irregularities at the ‘OneDA Family’ as we continue to strongly implement a ‘No to Corruption’ policy,” he added.