QUEZON CITY -- An official of the Department of Agriculture (DA) said problems on the country's bureaucracy have been resulting in the underutilization of the Sugar Industry Development Act (Sida) fund.
Agriculture Undersecretary Segredo Serrano, at the sidelines of the Sugarcane Stakeholders’ Summit at the Bureau of Soils and Water Management (BSWM) here Monday, February 11, said underspending of the P2-billion annual fund is actually due to a complex number of causes.
Serrano said these include problems on procurement and bidding procedures on top of bulk and difficult-to-comply requirements, particularly for the socialized credit program.
“The Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) is fast in terms of providing loans to the farmers. Their processes are so easy and the requirements are not that heavy,” he said.
“How can the small farmers avail such financial program given such system?” he asked.
Senate committee on agriculture and food chairperson Senator Cynthia Villar earlier reported that the annual P2-billion Sida fund was reduced to P500 million for 2019.
Villar confirmed that the budget cut was due to underutilization or underspending.
“The fund was underspent every year. The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) cut the allocation because they believe that the agencies involved has no capacity to fully spend the funds allocated,” she added.
It can be recalled that Sida was created to boost the production of sugarcane and sugar, and increase the income of sugarcane farmers or planters and farm workers.
Serrano said the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) is undergoing a rationalization process.
This means that at present, the agency is in the transition period and its plantilla are not yet in full house.
Serrano said the programs cannot be managed by a few people only, who are job order employees.
“We need the private stakeholders, farmers, and millers to also help us in defining how we will use the fund,” he added.
In his speech during the opening rites of Monday's summit, the DA official urged participants to help show that the fund can be fully utilized.
“Through this, we can eventually recover and increase up to the allocated P2 billion,” Serrano said, stressing that these resources are available for the industry which is dominated by small farmers needing support.
Through the summit, the industry should be able to define solutions to the problem on how to recover the fund every year, he added.
The DA official believed that, though the fund will not be totally dissolved, there might be a “little” left for the industry.
“It's going to be a shame if that happens so we need to pursue the work program for the fund for it to be fully utilized,” Serrano also said.