PH Information Agency flagged for 'irregular' expenses on hotel stay, meals

Adrian Ayalin, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 14 2022 05:01 PM

MANILA — The Commission on Audit (COA) has flagged the expenses made by the Philippine Information Agency (PIA) for hotel accommodations and meals in 2021 for its officials and employees at the height of COVID-19 lockdowns in Northern Mindanao.

In the 2021 audit report on the PIA, state auditors noted that a total of P84,272.80 were spent on hotel accommodations for 2 PIA officials on various dates; P151,008.85 were incurred for meals of employees who attended meetings; and P70,745.53 for assistance to its employees during the implementation of Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine from June to August. 

The auditors noted that under the COA Circular 2012-003 and Executive Order No. 77, the spending may be deemed irregular as they exceeded the maximum rate of P900 for lodging, P540 for meals and P360 for incidental expenses.

During the visits of PIA officials, the agency provided Limketkai Luxe Hotel accommodation worth P4,500 per day, per individual, 5 times more than the allowable rate of P900.

“These expenses are deemed irregular since the provision of such is unnecessary for they don’t actually relate to the implementation of a significant activity,” the auditors said. 

The audit report noted that it is understandable that accommodation and meal expenses form part of the implementation of the mandate of the PIA of providing accurate and timely information to Filipinos. 

But extra caution must be exercised in utilizing government funds to ensure it is in accordance with applicable laws, according to the auditors. 

“As a result of the incurrence of the subject expenses, the agency has failed to effectively and efficiently utilize the government funds for the fulfillment of its mandate, vision, and mission,” the auditors noted.

The auditors told the PIA management to submit a justification of their expenses as why they should not be disallowed in audit.

It was however noted in the report that the PIA, as the government arm and head for strategic communications in Northen Mindanao on COVID-19, needed to go to the ground such as hospitals for its close monitoring efforts. 

PIA officials also went to other areas such as venues for press conferences, the Department of Health Command Center and others.

“It is in this reason that the management decided to provide lunch to the employees who are on duty. We also conducted everyday meeting to assess our communication strategies and plan for stories on that particular day,” the auditors noted in the report.

The administrative and finance section of the PIA also told the auditors that they will be submitting the lacking documents to justify their expenses.

A copy of the audit report was also received by PIA Director General Ramon Cualoping on May 31, 2022.