The Department of Agriculture (DA) has further tightened the accreditation system for non-government organizations, implementing stricter spending controls and purging the list of NGOs that transact business with the department.
In a statement, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala said on Thursday the exposé on the corruption involving the congressional Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) has provided an opportunity for the department to strengthen its checks and balances system in the approval and implementation of projects.
Alcala said he did not allow the PDAF to be coursed through the DA from July 2010 to August 2012 because he saw the need to firm up the guidelines.
But they later resumed the practice of accepting “pork” funds after he was advised that government ”cannot simply refuse to be a project conduit since agriculture, livelihood and infrastructure projects are part of the Department of Budget and Management’s menu.”
“Even witness [Benhur Luy], in one of his congressional appearances, mentioned that they had a hard time getting projects from DA because of our stringent measures,” Alcala said.
While the controversy damaged the reputation of even the genuine NGOs, Alcala said that the DA will not stop supporting rural-based organizations, in line with the prescribed process following President Aquino’s abolition of the PDAF.
“We cannot leave behind authentic NGOs such as cooperatives and farmers’ and fishermen’s groups,” he said. “Ano pa ang saysay ng ating mga programa sa Kagawaran (ng Pagsasaka) kung hindi natin sila matutulungan [What is the use of our programs in the Department of Agriculture if we cannot help them?]”
Alcala said that the DA has tried to ensure that mechanisms are in place to make the system—from accreditation up to project implementation and completion—scam-proof.
In January, Alcala signed Administrative Order 01, which spelled out the revised guidelines for the accreditation of NGOs and the implementation and monitoring of DA-supported projects.
Accreditation is the first step for NGOs or rural-based groups to take before they can pre-qualify to carry out any DA project. At this stage, the updated AO now requires six additional documentary requirements from project proponents, on top of the original seven, including the submission by NGO officers of current clearances from the National Bureau of Investigation and their respective barangays.
NGOs are also required to submit a certificate of registration with the Philippine Government Electronic Procurement System or PhilGEPS. PhilGEPS is the central portal that hosts information on the procurement of goods and general support services, civil works or infrastructure projects and consulting services undertaken by procuring entities of the government.
During the pre-implementation stage, public bidding is now required in the procurement of materials or services to be used in the project, in keeping with Republic Act 9184 or the government procurement law. The old guidelines did not require this provision.
Old safeguards remain, including the release of funds in up to four installments, based on liquidation and progress implementation of a project.
In support of the new AO, DA will also publish in national dailies and its website the full list of its accredited NGOs, highlighting the newly-accredited ones, Alcala said.
At the time the pork barrel scandal surfaced, DA had 26 accredited NGOs, including the Kaupdanan Para sa Mangunguma Foundation Inc. (KPMFI). KPMFI would later be identified as a bogus NGOs with links to alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles.
Alcala’s housecleaning efforts led him to formally ask the Office of the Solicitor General (letter to SolGen. Francis Jardaleza dated 6 September 2013) and the Department of Justice (letter to Secretary Leila De Lima dated 17 October 2013, through Prosecutor Claro Arellano of the National Prosecution Service) to file appropriate cases against KPMFI.
Alcala reiterated that his office acted in good faith when it accredited KPMFI to pre-qualify and eventually qualify for several livelihood projects. After all, he said, KPMFI submitted complete and orderly documentary requirements, including a certificate of good standing from the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Alcala said DA will exert all means to hold KMFI officers accountable, as well as DA officials and employees who will be proven to have connived with the NGO.
He said DA will continue to foster greater transparency and accountability in all its actions and plans, in tandem with agro-fishery stakeholders and development partners.
“We welcome suggestions from all concerned sectors on how to guarantee that our processes and transactions at DA are conducted in the most transparent and efficient manner,” he said.