Da asked to explain COA audit findings
A private sector group yesterday asked the Department of Agriculture (DA) to explain its alleged “misuse” of some P46.48 billion in public funds, stressing that it owed intended beneficiaries of the funds and other stakeholders such an explanation. The Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food Inc. (PCAFI), a DA-recognized consultative body, said it made this call in a letter to Agriculture Secretary William Dar early this month following the release of the Commission on Audit’s (COA) audit report on the agency.
PCAFI’s statement came just as the DA has been trying to secure a bigger funding for next year. It initially requested P250 billion but this was eventually slashed to P72 billion under the proposed P5.2-trillion national expenditure program for 2021. .According to the COA report, P4.55 billion of the agency’s funding last year was unobligated while P9.8 billion in unused funds were returned to the Treasury, and about P17.54 billion was not liquidated. Also in the report were the P2.19 billion in unobligated Bayanihan fund; P9.4 billion in “unsettled suspensions, disallowances and charges”; P2.07 billion in “questionable” fertilizer program; P1.05 billion in contracts that were noncompliant with DA guidelines.
DA spokesperson Noel Reyes said most of the lapses in the DA budget utilization were due to the health protocols and travel restrictions that resulted in difficulties in enforcing the submission of documents related to the audit.
“We want to clarify that from the initial COA findings, there was nothing that indicated that DA funds were misused or there were illegal, irregular, unnecessary and unconscionable transactions, or extravagant expenses made,” he said.
Meantime, PCAFI said “we are working very hard to help increase the budget of the DA and these COA findings will greatly jeopardize our effort of generating additional resources for our agriculture sector.” “We would like to seek clarification and explanation from your office on some of the major highlights of the COA findings,” the group told Dar in the letter.
PCAFI is composed of 48 agriculture sector groups.
More than the COA findings, the group also flagged the inaccuracy of the agency’s farmers’ database, the leniency in the reporting of farmer-beneficiaries in its master list, the overpayment in the reimbursement of claims for fertilizers and the DA’s procurement contracts.
The Department of Budget and Management last month submitted the proposed P5.02-trillion national budget for 2022. Of which, only P72 billion was earmarked for the DA.
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