THE ADVERSE FINDINGS OF A Commission on Audit study on the use of the pork barrel by Congress during a three year period was so mind-boggling that the head of the COA felt like breaking down.
COA Chairperson Grace Pulido-Tan has released the findings of a special COA audit of the pork barrel from the years 2007 until 2009, where the audit body found brazen and staggering examples of misuse and mismanagement of public funds by the government agencies tasked with implementing the pork barrel projects.
As well, Tan expressed her amazement at the apparent failure of responsible government agencies to keep good records of fund disbursement, a practice which may, wittingly or unwittingly, have aided and abetted in the misuse of government funds.
The COA findings covered a wide range of anomalies, from excessive grants of pork barrels to select legislators, to the careless release of billions in government funds to unverified nongovernment organizations of dubious existence, to ghost fund releases to ghost NGOs and beneficiaries, to even the building of government infrastructure on privately-owned land.
The COA findings comes even as the public is still to grasp the full extent of the P10 billion pork barrel controversy that has been hounding businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles and her JLN group. Napoles has been accused of setting up fake NGOs to receive pork barrel funding from legislators for more than a decade now.
“There is a culture of impunity that we have to consider here,” Tan said. “I hope that with the investigation now with the Department of Justice and the Ombudsman, mayroon nang makakasuhan dito.”
“Kung si Cardinal (Chito) Taglem, naluha, ako ay nahagulgol,” Tan told reporters as she presented her team’s findings.
The offenses were so brazen and the record-keeping was so poor that one would wonder if one was deliberately in support of the other, Tan said.
“May mga listahan ng beneficiaries (of pork barrel) na kinuha sa listahan ng mga pumasa sa Board o sa Bar (the law licensure exams), and we were able to compare the list,” Tan told reporters.
As well, Tan said the COA team found that P6.156 billion in pork funds from 12 senators and 180 congressmen were channeled to 82 NGOs, some of whose existence were highly in doubt. In fact, Tan said, ten of these 82 NGOs were later implicated in the Janet Napoles controversy.
“Some of the NGOs were more questionable than others,” Tan said.
The COA audit covered some P 101.6 billion in pork barrel releases, broken down into hard and soft pork projects. However, of that magnificent amount, Tan said the COA could only really audit a mere P32 billion in fund disbursements.
The reason for this, Tan said, was that the Department of Budget and Management had mysteriously been unable to provide records of its schedule of disbursements to the projects of the legislators. In other words, more than half of the pork barrel disbursements were not properly recorded by the DBM, making it impossible for the COA to keep track of them.
As a result, the COA has had to rely more on the records kept by the individual agencies, instead of the central agencies that was supposed to make the disbursements.
Despite the difficulty in the audit, Tan said it was pretty clear that at least P1 billion was gone because of “leakage,” at the very least.
“The leakage is in thenature of overpricing, or specifications not being followed, or something being wrong with the construction, or mga hindi nagamit,” Tan said. Tan however was very careful not to make any accusations against any officials, past or present: “Pero never kong sinasabi na may nagbulsa.”
The findings of the COA are as follows:
- The DBM failed to keep proper records and onitor releases, and as such could not provide the COA the proper documents for more than half the disbursements;
- At least 74 legislators exceeded their prok barrel allocations (P200 million for senators; P70 million for congressmen);
- At least one non-legislator, a certain Luis Abalos, somehow received P20 million in pork barrel funds;
- One former legislator, Manuel “Way Kurat” Zamora, received P3 billion worth of pork barrel projects. Curiously, Zamora had made a name for himself with his high-profile gimmicks by riding a bike to Congress after saying he could not afford a car;
- Implementing agencies simply transferred the funds to the favored NGOs of the legislators even without the appropriate paperwork or verification;
- Many of the NGOs were not chosen through competitive bidding, but merely through endorsements by the legislators;
- Projects were found to be grossly deficient, “casting doubt on whether they were carried out at all.” “(THe NGOs) were either unknown or could not be found at their given addresses, or have given non existent addresses, or were traced to mere shanties or high end residences which turned out to be the residences of their owners.”
- About P123 million were used by NGOs to pay the salaries of their employees; in effect, government was paying the salaries of these non-government organizations;
- Some projects were deficient or overpriced; At least 90 projects were either not utilized or fully utilized, or in a state of deterioration.
- Some 54 projects costing P161 million were constructed on private lots.
Tan said the COA has already presented its findings to both President Benigno S. Aquino III and to the Office of the Ombudsman for proper action. However Tan refused to say if the COA was going to recommend the filing of charges against any political personality, saying the COA was merely tasked with auditing the spending, and it would be up to the Ombudsman to see if anyone was to be held criminally liable.
Still, the COA asked the DBM to issue stricter and more stringent guidelines in the use of pork barrel and in the participation of NGOs.
“It is also recommended that legislators limit their participation to identification of projects, and ensure that such projects are eligible under the terms and provisions of the General Appropriations Act,” the COA report said.