MANILA - Heads of government agencies are indeed authorized to use savings to augment any item in their budget, the state auditing office said amid a controversy involving Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile's distribution of money sourced from savings for other senators' maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE).
In a January 21 letter to Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, who criticized Enrile and sought the Commission on Audit's (COA) opinion on the issue, COA Chair Maria Gracia Pulido Tan said the General Appropriations Act (GAA) or the budget law gives government heads the authority to use savings to increase other items in their budget.
She pointed out that COA no longer has to define what savings are valid because it is also in the law. In her letter to COA, Santiago asked that the auditing agency enumerate what savings are valid.
"It is beyond our mandate to 'enumerate what savings are valid' for purposes of augmentation," Tan said in her response to Santiago. "Our mandate is to examine if the augmentation is in fact sourced from 'savings' as so defined by Congress."
Tan also explained that the COA does not inquire into whether government agencies deliberately spend less than they should so they can have more savings to use for other purposes.
On whether the COA can recommend that an agency's budget be reduced if it consistently spends little, Tan said Congress has the power to do so.
She said Congress, which deliberates on the national budget every year, can use COA's annual reports as basis to make a decision on whether to reduce an agency's budget.
Santiago also inquired if it was valid for Enrile to give additional money for MOOE at the end of the year.
"The GAA does not specify when the Senate President can or should exercise this authority, nor does it prescribe amounts or formula," Tan said.
Tan also said that based on records submitted by the Senate accounting office, Santiago got additional MOOEs in various dates in 2012 amounting to a total of P15,492,292.
Furthermore, the COA chair explained that the law already enumerates the purposes for which the MOOE can be spent.
"As such, there is no need for the Commission to enumerate such purposes," Tan said. "Our role is to examine, audit, and validate whether the MOOE is spent in accordance with law."
In response to Santiago's suggestion that the COA compute the income of all government officials, Tan said the COA is already going through its Report on Salaries and Allowance (ROSA). The ROSA also includes public money paid as discretionary funds to high-ranking officials other than members of Congress, she added.
Tan said that for members of Congress, the COA publishes in major newspapers a report of payments made to them and their itemized expenses yearly.