MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – It had a budget of only P704,000 for catering services for 2012, but the office of Environment Secretary Ramon Paje spent 30 times more, or a total of P22.09 million.
This was among the findings of the Commission on Audit (COA) in a report released on Friday, October 4.
For its “failure…to observe economy measures in the disbursements of food/catering services during conferences and routine/ordinary meetings,” the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources-Office of the Secretary (DENR-OSEC) overspent P21,383,358.45 or 3,037%, COA said.
Auditors found that Paje’s office served 4- and 5-course lunches during conferences worth between P550 and P600 per head.
There were also snacks served at P120 to P174 per person.
Among abuses noted in the audit report were:
- providing breakfast even if meetings started at 9 am;
- serving morning snacks and lunch even at conferences that started after 12 noon;
- giving out full meals or snacks even for “routine/ordinary meetings that last for just an hour or two.”
Other findings included:
- hiring two caterers to provide food during the World Water Day celebration on March 22, 2012
- going through middlemen to buy food from fastfood chains Jollibee and McDonalds for the IP Phones User’s Training late in the year.
The use of middlemen bloated the cost of food.
COA identified DENR-OSEC’s caterers and suppliers as My Sweet Ants Patisserie, MPCC, Aleka Catering and Food Services, and FP Astudillo Catering Services.
Auditors said the food-supply contracts did not go through required public bidding or even canvassing.
To sustain the overspending on meals, Paje’s office used its maintenance and other operating budget. This meant that other programs were sacrificed in the process, auditors said.
The sum was also more than twice the amount of P10.39 million that was allocated for representation of the entire DENR under the 2012 agency budget.
DENR welcomes recommendations
But in a GMA News report, DENR chief of staff Analiza Teh said the department’s food expenditures are not grossly overboard if one considers that it includes the budget for the many departments under the central office and regional offices.
P15 million was actually spent to provide food for a whole-day international conference which was approved by the Office of the President, said Teh.
To explain why middlemen would buy food from fastfood chains, she said this only happened when the allocated budget was not enough to buy food when the number of event participants exceeded the pre-determined number.
“Minsan napipilitan gumamit ng middleman kapag, example, nag-allocate sila ng 100 tapos ‘yung budget was for 100 then suddenly kinulang then they have to get more.”
(Sometimes they are forced to use middlemen when, for example, they allocated for 100 and the budget was for 100 then suddenly it’s not enough then they have to get more.)
She reassured the public however that the DENR is enforcing guidelines on food and catering services. A September 6 memorandum directs:
- Breakfast cannot be served if the meeting starts past 6am
- Snacks will only be served during meetings that last more than two hours
- Dinner cannot be served if meeting does not last past 6pm
Teh added that the DENR welcomes the COA’s “recommendation to be more judicious.” – Rappler.com