Inconsistent inclusive growth and Apec
Organizers of the successful Apec meeting last week should be congratulated for putting together the 2015 Apec Leaders Declaration on “Building Inclusive Economies, Building a Better World.” However, there is still much inconsistency today in the Department of Agriculture’s pursuit of inclusivity.
We quote here three provisions that are particularly relevant to DA’s inclusive role.
“We recognize the significance of enabling the full participation of all sectors and segments of our society… We underscore the importance of empowering them with the ability to contribute to and benefit from future growth.”
“We adopt the Apec Strategy for Strengthening Quality Growth that will prioritize institution building…”
“Promoting structural reform is critical to improving economic efficiency and increasing productivity.”
For the farm sector, Congress has passed a law that embodies structural reform, institution building and stakeholder participation. This structure is the public-private Agriculture and Fishery Council (AFC), which is present at the national, regional, provincial and municipal levels.
However, this structure is inconsistently used at the DA. An important role of the council is to monitor the DA budget to ensure it is actually used for agriculture development. This budget rose from P30 billion in 2011 to P88.6 billion in 2015. However, agricultural growth slowed from 2.6 percent in 2011 to 0.3 percent in the first half of 2015. The 1.6 percent average growth during this period is less than half of the 4 percent government target.
This has alarmed private sector members of the National AFC (now called Philippine Council for Agriculture and Fishery) Budget Committee. Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala should be commended for taking action and encouraging these members to monitor the DA budget in an identified region.
From Aug. 25 to 27, four private sector teams with DA personnel monitored the budget use in the four provinces of Bicol. However, it was only on Nov. 13 when the AFC Secretariat submitted a report on the monitoring results to Alcala, two and a half months delayed.
The report contained both favorable and unfavorable results. On the positive side, the DA budget was used effectively when the farmers and fisherfolk knew about and even participated in DA project implementation. Inclusivity resulted in commendable benefits for them.
But when stakeholders were excluded from even knowing a project’s components, the results were disastrous. The budget was misspent for ghost or badly managed projects, where corruption and incompetence were prevalent. This inevitably resulted in failure.
The DA Secretary had directed DA regional directors to give the complete list of the department’s projects to the AFCs for monitoring but this did not happen in Region 5. The AFCs got only a list of minor projects. This practice was also happening in other regions.
The budget committee therefore proposed a cover letter attached to the monitoring findings. It would ask the Secretary to consider issuing a directive to all regional directors for them to provide the complete the list. However, this important recommendation was deleted, advertently or inadvertently, by DA personnel.
Up to now, this directive has not been issued. Consequently, several regional directors are still not issuing the complete list of DA-funded projects to the AFCs. Thus, the check and balance provided by the AFCs is not there to minimize wastes and corruption.
Regarding the private sector’s recommendations on correcting the budget discrepancies in Bicol, a DA response will be given at the end of this month. A three-month wait does not speak well of inclusive participation. Last Nov. 16, the budget committee agreed to decline further monitoring until results are given. Some feel they are just being used.
This inconsistency in inclusive growth can be corrected with a globally recognized management system such as ISO 9000. Alcala’s initiatives can then be implemented effectively, instead of being sabotaged by certain elements because of inadequate controls.
We must now act swiftly to institutionalize such a management system. Only then can we support the Statement in the areas of structural reform, institution building, and most importantly, inclusive stakeholder participation.
(The author is chair of Agriwatch, former secretary for Presidential Flagship Programs and Projects, and former undersecretary for agriculture and trade and industry. For inquiries and suggestions, e-mail [email protected] or telefax 8522112.)