by Allan Yves Briones
The Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) spent P30.692 million last year to fly out officials, employees and even private individuals contrary to prevailing austerity measures, according to the Commission on Audit (COA).
These foreign travels were deemed “not urgent and of extreme necessity”, according to state auditors, who referred to these expenditures as “excessive and immoderate.”
In two memorandums issued last year, President Rodrigo Duterte reiterated the prohibition on “extravagant and lavish” foreign travels. It prescribed a set of criteria which should be met: that the trip’s purpose falls under the mandate of the requesting official, that trip expenses are not “excessive”, and that it brings a “substantial benefit to the country.”
In addition, in the annexes of the memorandum, it expressed an absolute ban on private individuals who “shall not be entitled to government funding for such trips.”
However, audit records show that from 2017 to 2018, the DICT flew 71 officials and employees, some even three or more times, as well as five private individuals – four students who competed in an international competition in Bangkok, Thailand, and one expert judge for the ASEAN ICT Awards in Cambodia.
“While participation in trainings, workshops, information-sharing and conferences/seminars abroad may generally do good for the Department and the country, it is not the only way available in order to empower the DICT officials and employees…Many of the foreign trips undertaken can be dispensed with without loss or damage to property, and…will not adversely affect the delivery of DICT services to the general public,” the audit report said.
According to the DICT, their use of funds for foreign travel is “reasonable”, particularly with regards to the International Telecommunications Union Plenipotentiary Conference, as officials and employees deemed it “the best opportunity” to be involved in the activities.
Furthermore, DICT said, the international competition was allowed “to serve as an opportunity for students to harness their digital skills.”
In a rejoinder, state auditors noted that while DICT’s intention is “noble”, there are established rules and regulations to comply with in the use of government funds.
COA urged the DICT to be “very discriminating” in selecting which travel orders to allow, ensuring that they subscribe to the president’s austerity measures.