By Ben Rosario, April 11 2019; Manila Bulletin

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The Commission on Audit has called out Cagayan provincial officials for their failure to utilize P104.72 million for programs that could have prepared the province to respond to the dangers of natural and man-made calamities.

“A significant portion of the Local Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Fund of the province for CY 2018 amounting to P104,727,054.21 remained unutilized as of December 31, 2018, thereby depriving the constituents of the benefits that they could have derived from the programs/activities had they been implemented on a timely manner,” the COA said in the recently-released 2018 Annual Audit Report for Cagayan.

IN the same audit report, COA also lamented the non-implementation of programs and projects worth P591.55 million for Cagayan notwithstanding the availability of the 20 percent development fund last year.

Both audit issues were reportedly caused by the late approval of the province’s annual budget.

“Consequently, the benefits to be derived from the projects were not enjoyed by the intended beneficiaries,” COA stressed.

Records showed that in 2018, Cagayan earmarked P116,176,713 for its LDRRMF in 2018 which is aimed at enhancing the province’s capability to “better prepare and respond to threats” brought about by calamities.

Last year, the province was battered by typhoons Ompong and Rosita, the latter having been listed among the strongest weather disturbances to hit the country.

However, auditors discovered that out of the allocated amount, only P11.449 million was spent. Expenditures included P2.4 million for relief goods; P5.04 million for agricultural and marine expenses and P1.33 million for repair of building and other structures, among others.

The total obligations represent a mere 9.86 percent of the entire LDDRMF, COA said.

“This is an indication that there is a significant delay in the implementation of projects and activities programmed to be accomplished in CY 2018,” the audit report stated.

According to COA the slow utilization of funds adversely affected Cagayan constituents who “could have derived” benefits from the programs that should have been implemented.

“Also, the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office is deprived of additional or enhanced capabilities that would allow it to prepare for and respond to the dangers of disasters and calamities,” COA stated.

Reacting to the COA report, the Cagayan Provincial Disaster and Risk Reduction Management Office commented that it was barred from using the funds due to the delay in the passage of the annual budget of the province.

Delayed approval of the annual provincial budget was also blamed for slowing down the implementation of projects financed through a P591.55 million development fund.

According to COA, out of the 73 projects, mostly part of the infrastructure program of the province, only five have started implementation.

The number of projects started in 2018 represents a paltry 6.85 percent of the total number of program and projects for the year.

“As a result, constituents were not able to enjoy the benefits that could have been derived had the programs been implemented on a timely manner,” the audit report stated.