NCMF: No irregularities in handling of 2019 Hajj fund; COA findings already addressed

Published September 1, 2021, 3:34 PM

by Ben Rosario

The National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) has denied irregularities in its management of funds for the 2019 Islamic Pilgrimage or Hajj in Saudi Arabia that was participated in by 7,243 Filipinos.

Secretary Pangarungan

Referring to the 2020 Annual Audit Report that flagged over P397 million in disbursements made by the NCMF for the accommodations of Filipinos during the NCMF Secretary Saidamen Pangarungan said “all of the expenses paid coming from the mutawiff (service fees) of the 7,243 pilgrims in the 2019 hajj” have been well-documented and fully accounted for.

“Not one peso is missing in our books, neither is there any showing of misappropriation,” stressed Pangarungan.

In its 2020 AAR, COA called the NCMF’s attention on expenditure deficiencies that auditors found in their examination of the Hajj expenditures.

Pangarungan said his office had already provided COA with “documents and justifications” to address the audit observations.

Among these were the submission of certificate of financial clearance issued by the hotel provider Maad Al Masiyah Company (MAAD); confirmation of the official receipts issued by MAAD to the Philippine Consul General in Jeddah and official receipts issued by the hotel provider and justifications to alleged discrepancies cited by auditors.

“(The) COA knows that MAAD and the other Saudi hotels do not, and have never, maintained record of the guest list because of the sheer number of 2 to 3 million pilgrims being billeted in Saudi hotels during the annual Hajj,” Pangarungan said.

“The COA has received all this documentation ahead of time before the crafting of the audit report. In the report they have noted our various submissions for further validation,” he pointed out.

In its initial audit of $1 million or P51.40 million of the disbursements for the 2019 Hajj totaling $7,811,238, COA found various deficiencies such as the payment of the amount through cash advance; physical difference between official receipts issued; the request of the contractor Maad Al Masiyah (MAAD) for payment of SR7.56 million and the lack of document indicating the actual number of pilgrims accommodated in the hotel.

“While the remaining 70 percent or USD6,811,238.00 (P345,629,461.07) of the total disbursements transferred to the bank account of MAAD could not be validated pending submission of the official receipts and actual number of pilgrims for the payment received,” the audit report stated.

Pangarungan said the NCMF has addressed the audit issues raised by COA but is now “ left wondering if, by asking for the impossible, COA seems to be engaged in faultfinding.”

He has taken pride in NCMF’s achievement during the 2019 Hajj where the 7,243 pilgrims’ experienced their “unprecedented billeting in five-star hotels in front of Prophet Mohammad mosque in Madinah and in 4.7-star hotels in Makkah.”

These accomplishments, the NCMF official said, is a far cry from the accommodations made available to past hajj goers who were made to live in , ‘substandard housing’ and “decrepit hotels far from the two Holy Mosques.”

Reacting to the COA report that questioned the hiring of job order employees that caused the duplications of tasks already assigned to existing emplooyes, Pangarungan pointed out that this was resorted to “because of sheer inadequacy of personnel as only 15%-20% of our workforce are reporting for work pursuant to CSC-mandated work arrangements that allow employees to work at home.”

On cash advances, he said, “only 10.25% of the unliquidated cash advances were incurred from 2018 to 2020 during my watch.”

He said the remaining 89.75% of all the cash advances were incurred in previous administrations in the span of six years from the passage of R.A. 9997 creating the NCMF.

“Nonetheless, I have ordered the NCMF Finance and Management Service to collect and re-send demand letters to accountable officials who have yet to liquidate the cash advances under their names,” Pangarungan said.

He also disputed the audit findings the purchase of high-end electronic gadgets as unjustified.

Pangarungan said that a highly functioning national agency like the NCMF requires technological advancement in a nationwide operation especially in the advent of the global health pandemic.