COA stops Capitol’s ‘pork’

CALLING it “unconstitutional,” the Commission on Audit (COA) permanently disallowed the legislative assistance fund (LAF) to the vice governor and the Provincial Board (PB) members.

For 2015 and 2016, each PB member got P3.075 million in LAF, while the Office of the Vice Governor got P19 million.

Provincial Budget Officer Danilo Rodas said that P26 million of the P62.05-million LAF for 2016 is still unspent and was already returned to the Office of the Vice Governor.

As for the P62.05 million in LAF resources appropriated last year, only P1 million is unspent.

“The inclusion of the appropriation for Local Assistance Fund (LAF) for the Office of the Vice Governor and the Office of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan in the annual budget was not in conformity with Section 465 of the Local Government Code,” State Auditor Lolita A. Mercedes said in her audit observation memorandum (AOM).

What for?

The LAF is similar to a congressman’s pork barrel, where each PB member gets P3.075 million each fiscal year to fund programs and projects in his or her districts.

It is used for financial assistance to other local government units, institutions and individuals.

Rodas said the LAF started around the same time the district representatives started getting their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).

The Supreme Court declared the PDAF unconstitutional in late 2013.

“Funds of the same nature were declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court on the premise that the system has violated the principle of separation of powers because it has allowed the legislators to wield, in varying gradations, non-oversight, post-enactment authority in vital areas of budget execution,” COA’s audit observation read.

Executive

According to COA, the release of the LAF violated the principle of non-delegability because it conferred on the PB members the power of appropriation. It let them “determine personal and discretionary funds from which they are able to fund their specific projects.”

Rodas said that simply put, the PB members are empowered to approve the release of funds to their own offices.

When asked why the LAF will be returned to the Office of the Vice Governor and not to the Office of the Governor, Rodas said this was approved by COA since the vice governor’s office is under the governor.

He added that the vice governor also has an executive function.

“We recommend that the management strictly comply with the provisions of the Local Government Code of 1991, specifically Section 465, which requires that the local chief executive shall be responsible for the implementation of all approved policies, programs, projects, services and activities of the Province within their respective allocations as approved by the Sangunniang Panlalawigan,” COA said.

Auditors sent the memo to Gov. Hilario Davide III last February.

Copies were also sent to Provincial Administrator Mark Tolentino, Provincial Accountant Marieto Ypil and Rodas.

The Sangguniang Panlalawigan invited Rodas to their regular session last Monday to explain the non-issuance of their LAF to comply with COA’s observation.

In a text message, incoming PB Member Horacio Franco (Cebu, 4th District) said he does not mind if they don’t receive the LAF.

Incoming PB Member Victoria Corominas (Cebu, 3rd District) said she still needs to study the COA audit observation before commenting on it.
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