Saturday, September 22, 2018

Editorial: The sharks’ share

(Editorial Cartoon by Joshua Cabrera)

IN ITS whale sharks, Oslob has found a cash cow. But it needs to handle its windfall better.

In its report for 2017, the Commission on Audit (COA) recommended that Oslob’s municipal treasurer stop accepting or encashing private checks as part of collections for the town’s whale shark watching tourism attraction. COA also urged the treasurer to deposit the collections “daily and intact,” after auditors documented that these were delayed by up to 18 days.

The auditors observed that at one point, the collections had amounted to P23.6 million before these were deposited, and warned that because of the delays, the town risked losing its collections. From January to November 2017, the whale shark attraction’s fees averaged P1.2 million a day, COA said.

It’s worth emphasizing that no amount was lost.

Oslob, in fact, finds itself in the enviable position of generating more business income than it does in traditional tax revenues. Last year alone, the town’s business income reached P135.3 million, which was much larger than its tax revenue of P4.8 million or even its Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) of P85.5 million. While most towns and cities depend on the IRA as its largest fund source, Oslob makes more than its IRA, thanks in large part to its tourism attractions.

The delays that COA warned against are not insoluble. In an exit conference, the municipal treasurer explained that before the town’s share of the collections could be deposited, they had to wait for 60 percent to be released to the Oslob Fishermen’s Association. But COA said there was no need to do that and that the fishermen’s association shouldn’t have the town encash their checks in the first place. COA also pointed out that the Land Bank of the Philippines operates a branch in Carcar, where Oslob can deposit its collections daily. Again, challenging but not impossible to solve.

What’s missing from the COA and Oslob officials’ discussion are the whale sharks themselves. What is the southern town, which is enjoying a tourism boom, doing for the health and conservation of the whale sharks that bring tourists in droves to its shores? If there’s any such investment, it’s not clearly spelled out in income and expenditures documents that COA obtained from Oslob last year.

If any organizations are still doing research on the whale sharks of Oslob, who’s financing such efforts and how much has the town contributed? In a 2016 report ahead of International Whale Shark Day, which is celebrated every Aug. 30, Conservation International pointed out its partnership with the Government of Indonesia to study the whale shark population better, in order to improve conservation management practices and map out a sustainable way to practice whale shark-based marine ecotourism.

Oslob can well afford to spend more on protecting its gentle giants.