In his interpellation of the National Irrigation Administration’s budget for 2021, Sen. Lacson questioned appropriations for projects with a track record of delays and negative slippage. He also scored the Department of Budget and Management’s tagging of funds for important agricultural projects as “For Later Release.”
* DELAYED PROJECTS:
Sen. Lacson noted that while the NIA has an annual average appropriation of P38B from 2017 to 2020 and has a proposed appropriation of P31.49B for 2021, based on the House version of the budget bill, COA reports from 2017 to 2019 show the NIA has “displayed a pattern of delays in the implementation of irrigation contracts (that is) tantamount to wastage of funds.”
The 2017 COA report found 436 irrigation contracted projects with a total contract cost of P11.938B resulted in significant delays of up to 2,558 calendar days or 7 years, due to inadequate planning and inefficient execution of surveys, investigation and engineering design. The 2018 COA report similarly found 299 irrigation contracts with a total cost of P20.704B had been tagged as delayed by up to 2,287 days or 6 years, going to the unsatisfactory performance of contractors, among others. The 2019 COA report “remained appalling” with 288 projects costing P10.103B had been tagged as delayed for three years or 1373 calendar days. “Now while admittedly these delays occurred before the appointment of the incumbent administrator, we’d like to know what corrective measures are being put in place to improve and avoid further delays of these projects,” Sen Lacson said.
Balog-Balog Multipurpose Project:
Sen. Lacson cited the case of the Balog-Balog Multipurpose Project in San Jose town in Tarlac, where the 2018 COA audit report showed P20.704B worth of delayed projects. The BBMP amounting to P7,773,510,386 accounted for 37% of the P20.704B worth of delayed projects.
Construction of the BB irrigation canal and a dam reportedly started during the presidency of the late President Corazon Aquino. In 1992 NIA proposed to implement the BB project in two phases, with Phase 1 covering 12,475 hectares. Phase 2 was approved by NEDA in May 2015, with the project involving the construction of new irrigation service for 21,935 hectares and stabilization of water supply to the currently irrigated areas of 12,475 hectares developed under BBMP Phase 1.
Phase 2 was originally expected to be finished in 2018 at a total cost of P13.37B, It records appropriations in the GAA from 2015 to 2020 totaling P7B, and has a proposed appropriation of P500M for 2021. But Sen. Lacson cited results of his team’s inspection of the project last Nov. 16, and compared it with images of the project taken in September 2019. “Halos walang nangyari.”
He added the original target completion was June 2020, but the target date was revised to Jan 2021, and further revised to June 2021. Following the date of its implementation it is undergoing construction for three years and only 29.56% completed, when its plans indicated it should have been 93.56% completed. “Maganda ang plano pero actual completion nasa 29.56% lang. So this gives us an idea of how glaring ang negative slippage is at 64.03%,” he said.
“Now my question is, considering the track record of the construction delays and other issues involved, what can P500M accomplish to contribute to the completion of the project in 2021?” Sen. Lacson asked, adding P500M is “too small an amount considering the delays and billions of pesos poured into the project during the past several years.”
“What could P500M do to contribute to the completion of the project? Kasi kung wala, at the proper time, I’ll just propose to delete altogether the P500M kung walang magagawa ang P500M ilagay na lang natin sa ibang proyekto maybe within DA o sa ibang ahensyang mas nangangailangan ng pondo kung wala ring ma-contribute ang P500M,” he added.
In response, Sen. Villar said she is willing to conduct a hearing on this, and suggested that Sen. Lacson “file a resolution and I will do a hearing, they will be there to answer.”
* FLR-TAGGED PROJECTS:
Sen. Lacson also noted the impact of the DBM’s “For Later Release” policy on at least two agricultural projects that involved institutional amendments requested by DA Secretary William Dar. These included the National Soil Health Program (P641.180M) and Agripreneurship Program (P489.666M). “Unfortunately, their budgets were tagged as FLR by the DBM.”
This prompted sponsor Sen. Cynthia Villar to assure she would follow up the release of the budgets for the two programs. “The long and short of it, Mr. President, distinguished sponsor: Importante ang dalawang programa sa DA. And I appreciate your effort to follow up the release of the budgets for these two programs.” Sen. Lacson stressed.