The Commission on Audit has been on a roll, doing a yeoman’s job documenting and calling attention to what has appeared lately to be a virtual plague of corruption, mismanagement and/or plain incompetence in many government agencies, despite President Duterte’s blunt warning of swift sanctions for officials in his administration failing at their job. The anomalies discovered at the gaffe-prone Presidential Communications Operations Office and the scandal-wracked Department of Tourism have been well-reported. But the 2017 COA report contains many more instructive examples.
Take the Bureau of Immigration (BI), which was chided for apparently losing millions in revenue simply from misreading official orders. The COA reported that the BI lost a whopping P869.24 million last year after the agency stopped collecting express lane fees in June 2017. The reason? The bureau thought Mr. Duterte had ordered them to do so. In December 2016, the President had ordered the BI to cease using the express lane charges for the salaries of its casual, contractual, confidential and job-order personnel—but the COA pointed out that the BI was not supposed to stop collecting the fees altogether. “It is only the use of express lane charges collected that was vetoed by the President and not the collection from express lane charges,” it said.
A failure of reading comprehension seems also at the heart of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp.’s (Pagcor) red-flagged operations. The COA chided the agency for failing to remit millions to the government based on faulty computation of earnings shares—on top of more millions wasted on perks given to officers and employees. According to the COA, Pagcor had under-remitted some P22 billion over the last six years because it had used the wrong metric. Pagcor’s defense was that it had computed the national government’s share from income generated by gaming operations, but the COA said the phrase “aggregate gross earnings of the Corporation from this Franchise” under Presidential Decree No. 1869 meant the cut was to be computed from the agency’s overall earnings.
Pagcor was further flagged for the excessive benefits totaling P334.8 million that it lavished on its employees in 2017. These perks included huge cash awards, gold rings and officers receiving P58.334 million in representation and travel allowances. The COA also questioned the spending of P172.536 million on underpowered computers and P2.557 million worth of backpacks; the backpacks were supposed to have been given to representatives of schools, but were instead given to politicians.
The Department of Transportation (DOTr), meanwhile, was taken to task for its failure to implement P46.6 billion in funded projects because of what the DOTr claimed were policy changes that delayed projects. The audit identified 153 out of 159 projects last year as failed or delayed—meaning, the DOTr was able to implement a measly six projects, which only exacerbated commuters’ road woes. “In view of the department’s unutilized allotments and cash allocations, [the] timely delivery of its mandated services, particularly the improvement of road safety by expanding safe, affordable and accessible public transport, was not achieved,” said the COA.
More: The Land Transportation Office was tagged for the “ineffective implementation” of the P437.99-million automated vehicle identification system. The Department of the Interior and Local Government and its implementing agencies were found to have been remiss in liquidating P1.046 billion of the funding for the 2017 Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit by the end of that year. And so on.
Mr. Duterte is on record as saying he abhors incompetence in public office so much that he wouldn’t hesitate to sack anyone in his administration found to be deficient in his or her duties. Recently, he also took a dig at Vice President Leni Robredo by declaring he would not step down for Robredo in the event of a transition government to federalism because, as he put it, “she can never be ready to govern my country. Reason? Incompetence.”
If the President were truly concerned about excellent, upstanding conduct in public office, he needn’t look outside his administration for targets to whip into line, or fire if necessary. He only needs to look at—and act on—the COA reports.
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