Criminal stupidity at the DSWD

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JUST when we thought no misstep of our government could ever appall us anymore, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) admitted last week that up to P165 million in cash donations for Typhoon Yolanda relief and recovery efforts are still gathering dust in DSWD bank accounts, because the donors failed to identify themselves.

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According to a DSWD spokesman last Friday, a government regulation requiring the identification and acknowl-edgment of donors prevents the department from using the funds. As the DSWD explained, deviating from very strict rules on accounting for and handling fund transfers could lead to disallowances by the Commission on Audit (COA), and that could mean penalties on concerned government officers.

In the interest of “transparency” – a word that has been rendered all but meaningless by the frequency with which it appears in government statements and the public conversation only AFTER a large anomaly is discovered – we should point out that, at least according to official data provided by the DSWD, about 86 percent, or nearly P1 bil-lion of the P1.15 billion in cash donations received were disbursed for relief and recovery programs. And we cannot fault the DSWD for having a sincere intention to follow legally-established procedures, although the indicated mo-tivation for doing so – the “concerned government officers’” sense of self-preservation – does not impress us at all.

Good intentions, however, do not absolve utter stupidity.

P165 million is a large amount of money; while it is all well and good that the DSWD disbursed most of the cash do-nations, it does not make P165 million a smaller number. The mandate of the DSWD is to provide social services, a mandate we daresay is much greater than any demanding a slavish adherence to accounting procedures, or any that suggests the responsibility for the proper use of donated funds actually lies with the donor, not the recipient agency.

Hundreds, perhaps thousands of people affected by Typhoon Yolanda have been made to wait for 18 months and counting for the vast amount of assistance P165 million can buy, all because of a procedural dilemma. That is stu-pid. Prolonging the suffering of displaced typhoon victims is the result, and that is criminal. It does not make any difference whatsoever that the neglect was the result of easily-avoidable institutional fumbling rather than bad intentions; the outcome is the same either way.

The inability of the DSWD to grasp the simple logic of the obvious solution to anonymous donations is mind-boggling, and while there is nothing to suggest that the funds were in any way mishandled apart from being al-lowed to slumber in a deposit account, it is understandable if the whole issue would raise suspicions of corruption. The DSWD’s responsibility for donated funds begins when they are received, not before; properly accounting for their receipt and subsequent disposal satisfies that responsibility. If “guidelines and regulations” are hampering the DSWD’s fulfillment of that responsibility in any way, then the matter should be raised and a solution or ac-ceptable work-around found immediately, not 18 months later.

It is certainly good practice on the part of donors to monitor the application of their contributions, but the choice is theirs; choosing to remain anonymous should not make their donations automatically suspect. We expect our pub-lic servants to be able to exercise better judgment, and demand that they do so. They can start by immediately spending the stranded funds for their intended purpose, and correcting the rules to prevent a similar situation in the future.

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15 Comments

  1. Benjamin Balita on

    I have denied myself this for the longest time, but maybe now’s the time to finally admit it, at least to myself: THERE ARE A LOT OF IDIOTS RUNNING THE PHILIPPINE GOVERNMENT!!

    Is that a fair statement? Some will say no. But I agree with Dr. David Meyer in his post about the Monster we create.

    Do I need to go to DSWD and slap some sense into these so-called leaders and trustees of donated funds? Go figure….

  2. It is not criminal stupidity. STUPIDITY yes but a GREAT STUPIDITY. Receiving donations ANONYMOUSLY and having them idle or inactive in legit bank account and unspent is not criminal. DSWD could just have obtained a WAIVER of rules on anonymous donations so it can readily use the funds for the intended victims of Yolanda, which the unknown donors must have intended for in the first place, either relief, rehabilitation or initial recovery funds for star-up livelihood. As long as properly disbursed for the purpose intended and receipted, such expenditures would be within the accepted rules. What is the stupidity here is to allow the much needed funds lay in idle for nothing and at the expense of wanting Yolanda victims. That is appalingly STUPID of DSWD, Dinky Soliman aka DinkyMAN! There must be a big hidden idea of Soliman to hold on to the $160 million idle in DSWD account. Could it be saved for campaign funds to buy Yolanda victims or Soliman hopes the public to forget the funds for her own self-disposal?

  3. odad mendoza on

    I don’t think Dinky is stupid. She is very clever. If she can find reasons to put beggars in an exclusive resort, she can find ways to disburse the funds if she want to. But I suspect she deliberately delayed the disbursements just in time for the 2016 election.

  4. jackson caya-os on

    never mind the suffering of the Yolanda victims, as long as accounting procedures are followed…. plain stupidity.

  5. Luis Catibayan on

    I just wonder if the writer was in DSWD’s position, would he spend the money, take the risk of a disallowance from COA and face possible criminal charges for unauthorized disbursements and malversation. Criticizing is the easiest thing to do.

    • emmanuel mallari on

      if i am the writer, i would take the risk because the end result is far greater than the risk. the DSWD official in this case dilly-dally for more than 18 months and counting and still not able to make a decision in this kind of situation …. then he/she have no business to be in his/her position. he or she should give up the position to someone who is willing to take the risk for the greater good

  6. It’s very easy to say that what DSWD did is stupid from the point of view of a speculator, but if you’re one of those in-charge of disbursing the funds or at least look at the issue from the point of view of a DSWD employee, then I doubt that you’ll retain the same tone.

    DSWD has already used substantially all of the donations with identified donors, this proves that they want to help the victims as soon as possible. You can’t fault someone for following established rules set by their superiors, especially if non-compliance comes with serious repercussions. I’m sure even the author has experienced following a stupid rule, even at least once, because he knew the consequences of disobedience.

    It’s not right to blame DSWD because their hands were tied by a higher authority. Blame those who established the rule.

  7. If they can throw away goods intended for the victims of Yolanda after waiting for them to rot and put street children in resorts to keep them away from the Pooe then I guess they are capable of this … It seems there is no limit to their incompetence , stupidity and criminal acts against the people …. Hail to the Chief who appointed them and tolerates all these at the suffering of the people

  8. Criminal liability – yes; Stupidity – no. The cash donation of 165M is being kept as “savings” to be disbursed to buy votes comes 2016. Think about how many votes 165M can be bought among yolanda victims at sino ang lalabas na bida “kuno”.

    • Interesting idea.
      In the meantime, may interest earnings pa yan.
      Kanino kaya napupunta?

  9. David Meyer on

    A famous English philosopher(John Locke } once said “Humanity creates Leviathans–Monsters such as bureaucracy ” These monsters then instead of serving the masters that created it –Take on a life of their own –They start to dictate how we act and what we do..This is just such an example ..These decisions make mockery of our logic, and humanity –We must abide by decisions the policy of these “Monsters” we have created.. In spite of the stupid illogical conclusions that it makes ..
    Dr D Meyer..

  10. Why is it so important to know where the donations came from? There are donors who donate anonymously, and would not want to be identified. And for as long as the donations are used or spent in accordance to the purpose by which the donations were made, there shouldn’t be any problem. What is important is how the donations were spent. And that’s where proper documentations are important. But, on the other, I doubt very much that the real reason why the money was not spent was due to the failure to identify where the funds came from. I would not surprised if the real reason was, someone did not spend the money because this someone could not find a way to steal it, and not get caught. That someone is still trying to find a “legal” way to abscond the money. Sounds like another Napoles scam on the making.

  11. Muriel Magtanggol on

    What about emergency powers during calamities? Obviously the funds were meant gor the unexpected tragedy! So? You can’t account for the giver nut surely you can account for where the money was spent for!

    The irony is, if the money is intended for railroading, things can be done in a jiffy and creatively. Consult Abad!