Deflecting danger at the DA
Private sector participation is the best weapon Agriculture Secretary William Dar can use to deflect the imminent danger of corruption at the Department of Agriculture (DA). This is especially important now as elections near, when corruption usually increases to its highest level.
This is why the private sector must do its job by supporting Dar at this time. But this is not a one-way street. Because of strong unscrupulous forces, Dar may unwittingly succumb to these forces. Then private sector involvement will become impotent.
In the past, the DA was involved in corruption at scandalous proportions. Instead of our tax money going to benefit farmers, it went to the pockets of unscrupulous politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen. Worse, the farmers were used and blamed for this atrocity.
Recall the fertilizer and Napoles-alleged scams, as well as billions lost in bad loans. Some bureaucrats would get a 20-percent share of the loans given to the borrowers, who would then not use these for the stated purpose. So far, many of these loans have not been paid back. And hardly any have been penalized. Since the loans were not backed by collateral, the borrowers lost nothing at all.
It was in this corruption-filled environment that private sector leaders in the legally mandated public-private Philippine Council for Agriculture and Fisheries (PCAF)—formerly the National Food and Agriculture Council—succeeded in establishing a public-private PCAF budget committee. The members scrutinized the budget and recommended the deletion of questionable items. They visited provinces to monitor budget use and report anomalies.
Many counterpart regional and provincial councils for agriculture and fisheries were not provided their respective DA budgets, stopping them from monitoring budget use. Nevertheless, their reporting served as a deterrent for future corruption.
It was therefore with great dismay that on Jan. 27, the PCAF private sector members were informed that the budget committee, along with other important cross-cutting PCAF committees such as international relations (which includes an antismuggling component) were abolished. This, along with the enormous 45-percent cut in private sector participation activities, was documented in a Jan. 31 commentary titled “Killing the private sector in agri governance.”
Soon after, responsible DA officials, including Dar, stated that this direction was not intended. Unfortunately, there are still some DA officials who want the old corrupt systems back. This is ironic. President Duterte has said he was fighting corruption, but the opposite is about to happen with recent moves to eliminate private sector monitoring of the DA budget. Where does that leave his objective of fighting poverty?
Fortunately, on March 3, PCAF executive director Liza Battad set a date in April for the budget committee’s first meeting. Under Battad’s competent leadership, it is hoped that the committee’s work will not be watered down. Dar will then harness the private sector in deflecting not only the danger of corruption during election time, but also recommending strategic initiatives with proper budget monitoring that we need for our agriculture development.
The author is Agriwatch chair, former secretary of Presidential Programs and Projects and former undersecretary of Agriculture and Trade and Industry. Contact him via [email protected]
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