DBM scraps anomalous SARO system

Budget Secretary Florencio Abad. Photo credit: The Philippine Daily Inquirer
Budget Secretary Florencio Abad.
Photo credit: The Philippine Daily Inquirer

The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) has scrapped the controversial Special Allotment Release Order (SARO) system, which some unscrupulous lawmakers, bureaucrats and private individuals had exploited for years to funnel public funds to their own pockets.

Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said the SAROs are no longer needed for fund releases since the government will step up the release of the funds as early as the first working day of 2014.

To date, as much as P879 million have been released using bogus SAROs. The amount was supposedly for the implementation of development projects such as farm-to-market roads.

The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has uncovered the involvement of some DBM employees and congressional staff members in the alleged malpractice.

The agency revealed that among those involved are the driver and janitor of Budget Undersecretary Mario Relampagos. The NBI has yet to confirm the names of those involved in the scam.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said the suspects who responsible for creating fake copies of the SARO that result in illegal disbursement of “pork barrel” funds will be punished accordingly.

According to Abad, SAROs are no longer needed because the 2014 General Appropriations Act (GAA) signed by President Benigno Aquino III will be used as the official budget release document.

As such, all appropriations itemized within the GAA are considered as ready for release at any given time to the respective agencies, unless this was in lump sum and still have to be itemized.

As opposed to itemized portions of the budget, the Special Purpose Funds (SPF) and lump sums needed prior approval before these can be released to the respective agencies.

This, however, raised eyebrows among critics who said the SPF is clearly the President’s own pork barrel.

It was a common practice in the past for lump sums to be covered with SAROs so that the funds can be released to the requesting agencies.

Such lump sum items include the infamous multi-billion-peso pork barrel or Priority Development Assistance Funds (PDAF), which was also prone to scams.

The most notorious case of PDAF a***e is the P10-billion “pork barrel” scam that whistleblower Benhur Luy revealed. This revelation led to the arrest of businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles, Luy’s former employer and relative.

The 2014 GAA-as-Release-Document system will make budget release much easier because departments no longer have to secure SAROs, allowing for more transparency in the flow of funds, according to Abad.

The first of its kind, this is expected to accelerate the release of funds, also allowing work to commence faster on various projects of different government agencies.

He also clarified that aside from eliminating delays in project implementations and fund release, the removal of the SARO system was also done to prevent graft and corruption in the bureaucracy.

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