Wednesday, March 26, 2014

‘Corruption allegations at NIA baseless, unfounded’ -- probe body

MANILA- Allegations of massive graft and corruption in the National Irrigation Administration are grossly unfounded and without strong basis, an investigating team tasked to look into the reported irregularities reported yesterday. 
          In a report released by the internal audit services (IAS) of the agency, it said its probe team which conducted an exhaustive investigation unearthed not a single anomaly committed by NIA officials as claimed by the NIA Employees Association of the Philippines (NIAEASP).
          Florentino David, IAS manager, said the results of their findings have been forwarded last March 20 to the NIA Board of Directors (BOD) which later instructed Administrator Claro Maranan to furnish the same to the NIAEASP itself and to the Department of Agriculture. It will also be submitted to President Aquino.
          “Based on the results of our investigation, our investigating team found certain minimal lapses in carrying out some projects but overall, we have not discovered massive anomalies as claimed by the NIAEASP,” said David.
          Maranan said the investigation was arrived at after almost two weeks. He said that in spite of what is happening,  the NIA will continue moving forward and perform its mandate of providing irrigation service to Filipino farmers.
          “We are bent on instituting reforms at NIA. Along the way, certain sectors are not compatible with some officials although the complaining groups themselves admitted that “allegations are not synonymous with proof,” he said, quoting from the open letter.
          The IAS came out with its findings after the NIAEASP, together with three other groups came out with an open letter Tuesday calling on President Aquino to investigate alleged irregularities inside NIA involving deputy administrators Modesto Membreve and Lorna Grace Rosario and DA Undersecretary Antonio Fleta.
          In their open letter, contained in a whole-page paid advertisement in a national daily, the concerned officials said they have nothing personal against Fleta and the two other NIA officials but just wanted the irregularities investigated and pending the results, that they be relieved from their posts.           
          The open-letter followed a February 6 letter-manifesto of the NIAEASP to Mr. Aquino where it lamented the “very serious and alarming developments” in the agency.
Rosario was accused by the NIAEASP of allegedly ordering the payment of 50 percent of the billing of a contractor who has a project in Sarangani even if the said contractor almost has no physical accomplishment.
She allegedly issued the note “kindly facilitate the 50% progress billing” of the contractor in the construction of an intake structure in Kiamba, Sarangani last December. The actual physical accomplishment of the project was only 4.83% as of January.
Rosario decried the accusations, saying it was apparently a  demolition job orchestrated by lower-level agency officials to besmirch her reputation and that of her husband, Binmaley, Pangasinan Mayor Simplicio Rosario.
The probe team said based on their investigation, the contractor’s representative Jose Luis Escalona was the one who manipulated the super imposition of the rubber stamp of receipt from Rosario’s office and her supposed notation. She said the contractor was also found to have falsified or bloated his project accomplishment.
 The probe team also found nothing earth-shaking in the allegations against Membreve that he ordered the repackaging of projects from administration works to local minor contracts worth P105 million, purportedly to draw kickbacks.
It said that after looking into the allegations, it recommended to follow the Government Procurement Policy Board resolutions 18 and 7 of 2006 and 2009, respectively limiting administration work of P5 to 20 million but not P105 million.
          The investigating team also cleared          the BOD of allegations it arbitrarily and capriciously issued policies that usurped the powers of the NIA administrator by arrogating to itself the authority to approve the appointment of officials from salary Grade 24 and above.
          “The board does not usurp powers because it is at the top of hierarchy of the corporation,” it said, adding its powers and functions are well-defined in Section 4, Article 3 and Section 8(d) of Republic Act 3601, the law that created the NIA.  
          On claims that the BOD has sown havoc and demoralization through indiscriminate reshuffling of officials, the probe team said all approved high-level reshuffling, reassignment and appointments were made mainly on the basis of the recommendations to the BOD by former and current NIA administrators.
          It cited a letter from BOD member Ismael Tabije who said there was never an instance a reshuffling order was initiated by the board.
          Quoting Tabije, the probe team said the board’s concurrences to the administrator’s recommendations were on the basis of “our collective thinking that he is the Chief Executive of the agency and as such, his recommendations should be given significant weight in the final decision.” – Manny Galvez   

Bangsamoro's minimum annual price tag of P50 B a small price to pay for peace– Recto

MANILA-Government was told to increase the “preliminary figure” of a P20.4 billion 2015 budget for Autonomous Regional Government for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) as the region deserves a “bigger peace dividend” for ending civil strife.

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto made this plea after noting that the ARMM government’s “indicative budget” as stated in the “budget call” used by the Budget department in drafting next year’s proposed budget grants a measly 4.2 percent increase in ARMM allocations.

The ARMM government’s obligation budget for this year is P19.6 billion. “It gets less than one percent of the national budget,” Recto said.

“In fact if the PDAF hadn't been abolished, it would have gotten a bigger slice in the budget pie than the ARMM government,” Recto said, referring to PDAF’s deleted P25.2 billion funding in this year’s national budget

Recto said that even if nominally ARMM government’s 2015 indicative budget is P840 million bigger than this year’s, “in real terms it is still negative growth.”

This is because if you add the population growth rate and the inflation rate, the sum is bigger than the 4.2 percent hike in the budget, Recto explained.

Still, Recto said President Aquino deserves the highest praise for pushing for the comprehensive peace settlement of a conflict with complex historical and social roots.

He said whatever the end result of the government peace deal with the MILF would be “the central government has the obligation to give more funds to a region which though poor is rich in potential.”

“We don’t know what will happen to the ARMM regional government. It can be replaced by another entity. If next year is ARMM government’s last hurrah, then the best goodbye gift we can give it is a bigger budget which in turn benefits the successor government because it will be using a higher base in asking for subsequent funds,” he said.

Under the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro, the ARMM will continue to function until a Bangsamoro Government has been elected by residents of areas which voted in a plebiscite to join it, in a manner provided by a Bangsamoro Basic Law passed by Congress.

Once formed, the Bangsamoro Government will receive an annual "block grant" from the government, the amount of which, in the words of the GPH-MILF peace deal, “shall in no case be less than the last budget received by the ARMM.”

In computing the latter, it is not just the ARMM government’s budget which will be reckoned, Recto explained “but all the funds spent in the region.”

This include the P15.7 billion Internal Revenue Allocation to ARMM’s five provinces, three cities, 116 towns and 2,490 barangays; the “Bottom Up Budgeting” allocation of P4.6 billion; and other “regionalized” spending of the national government.

In all, the amount would be in the neighborhood of P44 billion to P50 billion, he said. “If you want to pin a price tag then that would be the minimum,” he said.

“Hopefully, this amount will be reduced in the future, as the new government will be financially self-reliant because fiscal independence is the hallmark of autonomy,” Recto said.

Recto stressed that “budgetary allocation” remains government’s “most effective equity” in the peace project.

“There are costs in pounding swords into plows,” Recto said.

“Yes, peace has a price but from a funding point of view an imperfect peace is still less costly than a just war,” he said.


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