“There’s enough money in government for the people if only it is not stolen.”
This was what I said during the Go Negosyo Town Hall meeting with TV hostess Kris Aquino which led to an awkward moment when she retorted “hindi naman kami nagnakaw.” (We did not steal.)
That was not the first time I said that line, actually. I used it before in many other engagements with farmers and fisher folks who seemed surprised that the Department of Agriculture could immediately respond to their needs with appropriate interventions.
Let me clarify that it was not an accusing statement intended at anybody, much less former President Benigno Aquino III.
It was a general statement based on the policy of President Rody Duterte that government money should only be spent for purposes that would benefit the people.
In the four months that I have been Secretary of Agriculture, I have validated that there is enough money to be used to respond to the immediate needs of the farmers and fishermen.
It may not be sufficient to cover everything, especially the huge infrastructure projects, but there is always a certain amount that could be used if only the money is spent wisely.
What did I discover after I assumed office?
First, I found out that there were still funds included in the 2015 Budget Allocation for the DA which were not used and had to be disbursed before the end of this year or else these will be returned to the national treasury.
The DA had to hold a 3-day financial assessment from Nov. 8 to 10 to make sure that these funds are used before the end of the year, except those which cannot be realigned anymore.
The unspent money initially amounted to about P6-B when I assumed office but after the financial assessment workshop in Davao City last week, we were able to identify the projects which could be funded by the excess money through realignment.
There would be about P100-M more which could no longer be realigned because they were allocated for specific projects.
For the 2016 Budget, we were able to set the deadline of up to the end of November of this year for the Bureaus and the Regional Offices to obligate their funds or else it would be “surrendered” to the Office of the Secretary which would use the funds for priority projects.
Second, I discovered that so much funds were allocated for non-essential projects like awards and incentives for best Cassava farmer.
I found this ridiculous because the best motivation for the Cassava farmer to produce more is a fair and stable price for his harvest rather than a financial reward based on the amount he produced.
Funds were also allocated for unnecessary training like the P28-M spent by the Agricultural Training Institute for an alleged “capability building” for rice farmers in a small irrigation service area in Central Mindanao.
Third, I uncovered transactions which were grossly overpriced, including the purchase of dairy goats which was priced at P174,000 per head.
Since I am a goat breeder who also imported ADGA-registered goats before, this price led me to ask: “What are we buying, goats with horns made of gold?”
Hybrid rice seeds which used to be sold for P5,100 per bag are now being bought for P4,500 or a reduction of P600 per bag.
I had to issue a directive that all financial transactions over P50-M had to go through the Office of the Secretary for review.
These and many more discoveries led me to conclude that if only people in government are conscientious and prudent in the utilisation of government money, a lot could be done to uplift the living conditions of farmers and fishermen in this country.
This was the basis of the statement that if only people in government do not show interest in making money out of government transactions, there would be enough for the poor.
There was never intention on my part to accuse anybody, especially President Aquino, of stealing money from government.
#Changeishere! #PresRodyCares! #DuterteDelivers!