5 steps to prevent corruption at the DA
At their recent July 5 national meeting, the regional and sectoral committee chairs of the Philippine Council on Agriculture and Fisheries (PCAF) identified five steps that can prevent corruption at the Department of Agriculture (DA).
The developments were triggered by the Alyansa Agrikultura (AA) letters sent to the Senate requesting an investigation into the DA’s unliquidated and unexplained fund releases, which the Commission on Audit (COA) uncovered was P22 billion in 2020 and P23 billion in 2021.
While waiting for Senate action on these letters, AA brought the matter up to the PCAF to see if it could prevent future corruption through an effective step-by-step private monitoring system.
A key mandate of the PCAF is to monitor DA funds, as specified in the 1997 Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act. PCAF is therefore the appropriate body to tackle this issue. Currently headed by Executive Director Nestor Domenden and Deputy Director Juliet Opulencia, it is especially appreciated for helping small farmers and fisherfolk.
The PCAF committee chairs recommended five steps to prevent future corruption. These could also be used as a template to prevent corruption in other government units.
The first step is to allow the private sector members of the regional, provincial and local agriculture and fisheries councils to get a complete list of DA projects in their respective jurisdictions. The private sector can then choose which projects to monitor. They were previously allowed only a partial list, which proved to be self-serving.
Second, the DA regional director should verify and sign the list of projects to be monitored.
In a recent monitoring visit, the private sector found equipment listed for P1 million, when its value was only P250,000. This was supposedly a typographical error committed by a subordinate, but that he was not to be blamed.
Third, the private sector should not only be engaged during the latter part of the program. He or she should be allowed to monitor from the start (bidding, etc.), during operations (as appropriate) and until project termination. In addition, the private sector must also be informed of other aspects such as the beneficiaries’ qualifications, appropriateness of the equipment to actual needs and the long term plan for equipment use.
Fourth, the DA should give a response to the action taken on the private sector monitoring report. Usually after an exit conference, where discrepancies are discussed, there is usually no feedback on penalties imposed on erring parties.
Fifth, and most important, an investigation must be conducted and penalties meted out, AFTER DUE PROCESS. The result should also be made known to others as a deterrent to further corruption.
There has been no report so far of any penalties related to the 2020 and 2021 COA revelations. Note that the 2022 report is still being analyzed.
Last Feb. 21, following the sponsorship speech of Senator Loren Legarda, the official ratification document for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) was approved by the Senate. It stressed that private sector monitoring of the DA budget was an important condition in our ascension to the trade agreement.
The deadline for submission on conditionality compliance was last May 21. It is now way past that deadline.
The good news is that a recommended procedure to implement this conditionality was identified last July 4. I guess it’s better late than never.
But if this procedure is not implemented, RCEP should be reconsidered.
Justice and fairness demand that agriculture should be enabled to compete with other countries in a wider free trade agreement. This can be done only if the already meager DA budget is used effectively and not diverted to massive corruption and waste.
Considering the five recommended steps identified here is a necessary step in achieving our targets. Lofty goals, but these can be achieved.
The author is Agriwatch chair, former secretary of presidential flagship programs and projects, and former undersecretary of the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Trade and Industry. Contact is agriwatch_phil@yahoo.