Reforms vowed in audit of Senate funds

Posted at 02/25/2014 3:17 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Senate President Franklin Drilon assured the public yesterday that reforms would be instituted in the use of Senate funds amid stricter rules implemented by the Commission on Audit (COA) following the controversy on the misuse of pork barrel funds.

“I support the call of our people to strengthen the processes and check the use of government funds,” he said over radio dzRH.

Drilon said senators have been complying with COA’s instruction to speed up the submission of audit instruments.

“I can tell you, all the senators are complying. In fact, they are having difficulty in liquidating the budget of every committee,” he said.

The Senate has an allocation of P3.3 billion under this year’s budget.

Sources said COA Chairman Grace Pulido-Tan reiterated a 2013 audit instruction against the use of mere certification to liquidate funds.

There were also concerns on the release of P20 million each for oversight committees or P480 million for this year alone.

As agreed in caucus last year, Drilon said senators would itemize the funds they are liquidating, except for a small proportion of the budget, which is traditionally subject to liquidation by mere certification. The entire bureaucracy follows this practice, he said.

State auditors maintained that only those classified as “extraordinary and miscellaneous expense” can be liquidated through certification.

Under COA Circular 89-300, extraordinary and miscellaneous expenses include those used for meetings, seminars and conferences; official entertainment; public relations; educational, athletic and cultural activities; contribution to civic or charitable institution; membership in government associations; membership in national professional organizations duly accredited by the Professional Regulation Commission; membership in the Integrated Bar of the Philippines; subscription to professional technical journals and informative magazines, library books and materials; office equipment and supplies; and other similar expenses not supported by the regular budget allocation.

“This listing is not exclusive or exhaustive and is intended merely to exemplify the nature and kinds of possible disbursement which may be categorized as extraordinary and miscellaneous expenses within its contemplation,” the COA circular stated.

Sources said some senators complained about the strict compliance with the liquidation of expenses through certification.

“It is understandable that there is some resistance since for so many years the lawmakers are used to merely issuing certification on their expenses,” a source said.

Oversight committees

Senate secretary Oscar Yabes said the Senate leadership has taken various steps to ensure the proper use of Senate funds, including allocation for oversight committees as early as 2013.

He cited the rationalization of oversight committees, which addressed redundancy and resulted in the reduction of oversight committees to 30 from 36.

“One of the most significant changes is the allocation of P20 million for committee expenses regardless of the number of oversight committees a senator chairs,” he said.

He said the Senate follows budgeting and accounting procedures, and expenditures pass through COA audit.

Not to senators’ pockets

Yabes said funds allotted to each senator’s office and the oversight committee he or she chairs do not go to their pockets.

He said senators’ allocations are used to pay for their staff to conduct research and legislative work, hire experts and consultants and to fund overall office operations.

“The Senate is not exempt from government auditing procedures. The funds entrusted to us faithfully undergo liquidation processes and the expenses are supported by receipts and other documents evidencing the disbursements,” he said.

Under Drilon’s leadership, Yabes said liquidation of cash advances is done by receipt, except for a very few items where transactions are strictly confidential that a mere certification is permitted.

“These include expenses relating to intelligence and data gathering in relation to a legislative inquiry, or expenses incurred to ensure the safety and security of the conduct of legislative inquiries,” he said.

Realignment

Yabes said the Senate also follows the process in the realignment of funds as employed by other government agencies, including fiscally independent bodies such as the Supreme Court and COA.

He said the Senate President or the House Speaker is allowed to realign allocation for maintenance and other operating expenses.

“The senators are allowed under the budget to seek realignment, and the Senate President would approve the request as long as it does not exceed the total allocation for each senator and that the realignment is done in accordance with the provisions of the law,” he said.

Yabes said the oversight committees are mandated by law to perform specific objectives, such as overseeing the implementation of certain laws enacted by Congress.

“A majority of the oversight committees were actually put in effect by the country’s laws. They were instituted in order to capacitate the legislative branch in closely monitoring the effective implementation of the most pertinent laws of the land,” he said.

“That is why many oversight committees are bicameral in nature – meaning, members from the Senate and the House of Representatives are mandated to make sure that the nation’s laws are working,” he said.