If power corrupts, the absolute power that corrupts absolutely must not prevail in the use of the proposed additional P66-billion DA (Department of Agriculture) budget for the COVID-19 stimulus fund. To achieve this, the private sector must be involved in safeguarding the proper use of these new resources.
When I was in government for 12 years at the Department of Trade and Industry, DA and the Office of the President, I experienced strong pressure from different unscrupulous officials. I can easily compare this to my 27-year private sector experience as an executive of Xerox Corp. USA; president of cement manufacturer associations in the Philippines and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and head of a private corporation.
These pressures are unique to government. They came from officials who can use their influence to remove you if you do not comply to their demands. But during those occasions, when I informed these unscrupulous individuals that the private sector was monitoring fund use, they inevitably withdrew their demands.
Except for once. This occurred at the DA, when I was offered a post to get me and the private sector out of the way. I resigned, after which absolute power and absolute corruption took place in scandalous proportions. The DA has since improved. But the recent abolition of certain mechanisms may pave the way for the resumption of corruption, specially with the additional P66-billion budget.
On May 18, President Duterte pledged to jail those caught in corruption. A few days earlier, he promised P30,000 to anyone who would report such corruption. Though these are welcome initiatives, we need an additional more systematic and expansive way to fight corruption. At this time, there are still some practices conducive to corruption at the DA. The transparent agriculture information system mandated by the Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act (Afma) sponsored by the late Sen. Edgardo Angara has not been implemented. An example is the lack of transparency on agriculture imports that enter customs-bonded warehouses and are smuggled into the domestic market.
On a provincial scale, I went on a four-day budget monitoring mission to Bicol as a private sector member of the Afma-mandated public-private National Agricultural and Fisheries Council (NAFC). We reported massive corruption in areas where the provincial AFC was deprived of information regarding DA-funded projects in certain areas, depriving the AFCs of their responsibility to monitor fund use. In other areas where monitoring took place, corruption was almost nonexistent. We gave our report to the DA head office, but nothing was done about the corruption.
Because we now have this COVID-19 situation and additional DA funds, we must restore the NAFC national and sectoral committees that were abolished on Jan. 27. They can contribute suggestions on optimal fund use and participate in monitoring processes that will prevent corruption.
At the local levels where much of the corruption can take place, the provincial and municipal AFCs should be harnessed to prevent corruption and ensure that national programs are adjusted to meet the actual needs of their respective communities.
Finally, we must unite with Agriculture Secretary William Dar and the integrity circles he is establishing. These will strengthen the Afma-mandated sectoral committees and AFC efforts to prevent absolute power and absolute corruption from rearing its ugly heard again at the DA. INQ
The author is Agriwatch chair, former Secretary of Presidential Programs and Projects and former undersecretary of Agriculture and Trade and Industry. Contact him via [email protected]
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