Bukidnon provincial board members willing to give up ‘pork’

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/03 September) — Some members of the provincial board of Bukidnon in separate interviews Monday agreed to abolish their special projects fund (SPF), the local version of the congressional pork barrel, to avoid complications.

Each provincial board member receives P3 million each year, half of it for “hard projects” and the other half for “soft projects” in their districts.

Board member Jay Albarece said he supports the idea of abolishing the SPF and instead give it to the appropriate line agencies.

“They are in the better position to know what to prioritize,” he added.

Observers have pointed out to media that there is no difference between the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) of congressmen and senators and the SPF.

Albarece said this will also enable them to focus on making ordinances and to police the way the governor’s office spends public funds.

Albarece, a lawyer, chairs the committee on rules and privileges and ethics and the committee on laws.

But he said the budget for their maintenance and other operating expenses, which is embedded in the SPF, should be retained.

He added the SPF is prone to corruption because its disbursement is discretionary on the part of the board members.

Board member Ranulfo Pepito, former head of the committee on appropriations, said he supports the idea of abolishing the SPF, but there must be a clear mechanism to ensure that individuals and groups who seek their assistance will be attended to by the provincial government.

He said that if it would be retained safety nets should be strengthened to monitor and control the funds.

He noted that the previous provincial board passed an ordinance limiting assistance through the SPF for individuals and families in crisis situations to P1,500.

Under the ordinance, crisis assistance refers to expenses for burial, medicines, and hospitalization.

Pepito said the same ordinance limits educational assistance to P1,500 per student per semester, and transportation and food assistance to P150 per person.

He proposed putting up a pharmacy so that the provincial government will no longer have to disburse money to people asking for medicines.

The ordinance further provides that “hard projects” may include requests by local government units for assistance during their foundation day activities.

Majority floor leader Clive Quiño told MindaNews Monday afternoon he will also call for the abolition of the SPF if needed.

He clarified; however, that there are no adverse reports yet that the board members have abused the SPF so it would be unfair to do it without a review.

He said there must be a review to check if indeed it went to the right recipients and projects.

Board member Gordon Torres, vice chair of the committee on appropriations, said the SPF should be removed if it is the only way to keep the board members free from accusations they were abusing public funds.

Another board member, who requested anonymity, said the SPF has made it difficult to turn down requests for financial assistance from hundreds of constituents.

Albarece said they have also been stricter on financial assistance to nongovernment organizations after reports came out that huge amounts from the PDAF went to bogus NGOs and nonexistent projects.

He added that along with Commission on Audit requirements, the provincial board is studying regulations for NGOs that may want to avail of the SPF.

He cited that among the measures is to require accomplishment reports and liquidation of the funds they obtained from the provincial government.

Quiño said some of the NGOs who approached him find the proposed measures too taxing. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)