COA: SRA gave P24.8M to NGO for anti-smuggling drive
MANILA, Philippines - Another attached agency of the Department of Agriculture (DA) has been found to be illegally releasing millions of pesos in public funds to a non-government organization (NGO) supposedly to finance anti-smuggling operations.
From 2008 to 2012, the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) gave P24.8 million in government money to a foundation which does not have any authority to dip its hands in public coffers according to law.
Last year, the NGO, which the Commission on Audit (COA) did not identify by name, received more than P7.8 million sourced from collections of voluntary monitoring fee contributions by sugar planters and millers to fund a sugar monitoring and anti-smuggling program.
Based on memoranda of agreement (MOA) dated May 19, 2008 and Jan. 10, 2011, the foundation was made a trustee of the funds which it shall release to the Sugar Monitoring and Anti-Smuggling Task Force, a body created by SRA to undertake anti-smuggling operations.
The second MOA, however, showed that the anti-smuggling operations shall be continued by an organization created and supervised by the foundation.
State auditors, in a 2012 report released recently, questioned such activities by the SRA, considering that its powers are limited only to issuing permits and licenses and collecting corresponding fees and levies on the processing and manufacture of sugar and its byproducts and other products derived from sugarcane and sugar.
“Therefore, SRA has no power to collect the aforementioned fees it interprets as voluntary contributions of the sugar planters and millers for anti-smuggling operations,” the audit team said.
The COA report said the SRA should stop the remittance of funds to the foundation and submit the latter’s reports on the utilization of funds and anti-smuggling activities for audit purposes.
The SRA management tried to reason out with COA, arguing among others that the anti-smuggling fund is a private fund because it does not meet the definition and nature of public funds.
State auditors, however, rejected such justification, noting that the mandate of SRA does not include acting as collecting agent of a private entity.
State auditors added that it is not within the power of SRA to declare certain types of collection as private funds in order to be exempted from the audit jurisdiction of COA.
“Further, if those private entities are indeed bent on helping the government in its anti-smuggling campaign, there is no need to make SRA as their collecting agent. In fact, they can directly enlist the help of the planters and millers in policing their ranks and provide financial and intelligence gathering assistance without coursing the collected funds through the SRA. That way, the bureaucratic red tape they sought to avoid will be prevented,” the COA report said.
In another report, state auditors earlier questioned how the National Agricultural and Fishery Council (NAFC), an advisory body of the DA, gave more than P116.7 million in pork barrel funds to various NGOs and people’s organizations (POs) for the implementation of livelihood projects in 2012.
Tripartite audit body
Meanwhile, a senior administration lawmaker has sought the creation of a tripartite audit and prosecution body that would be more powerful and effective than the current anti-corruption setup in government.
Quezon City Rep. Winston Castelo, chairman of the House committee on Metro Manila development, filed House Bill 426 that seeks to create the Legislative Audit Council composed of the COA, Office of the Ombudsman and the oversight committee of Congress, which will run after corrupt officials and private individuals and make them accountable for embezzlement of public funds.
He said audit and prosecution are crucial in fighting corruption “so there is a need for a no-nonsense approach that will yield together the capacities of three institutions merged into one.”– With Paolo Romero