MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Department of Tourism (DOT) spent P19.2 million on travel allowances alone, given to 94 officials and employees who went around the world to attend events in 2017.
The Commission on Audit (COA) said the P19.2 million was spent without first setting specific guidelines on foreign travels “thus, exposing the government to risks of incurring expenditures for excessive and extravagant travels abroad.”
Officials and employees are allowed under the Tourism Act of 2009 to attend meetings and participate in activities abroad intended to promote Philippine tourism.
The COA 2017 audit report of the DOT revealed the extent of travels of DOT officials in 2017.
For example, resigned secretary Wanda Teo received a P425,191 in travel allowances to attend a tourism trade fair in Berlin, Germany, and to conduct meetings with travel agents in Krakow, Poland.
For all her travels, including going to Thailand for President Rodrigo Duterte’s official visit, Teo got a total of P863,961.
Undersecretary Kat de Castro, who used to handle public affairs, communications and special projects, attended the European Dive Show in Bologna and Rome, Italy, with a travel allowance of P340,913.
Since Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat took over DOT, De Castro has been relegated to handling public parks. (READ: New tourism chief asks undersecretaries, assistant secretaries to resign)
Undersecretary Benito Bengzon, who is Puyat’s choice for DOT spokesperson, was given a total P1.035 million in travel allowances when he went to Tel-Aviv, Israel for the International Mediterranean Tourism Market; to Florida, USA to attend the Seatrade Cruise Global; and to Dubai, UAE and Doha, Qatar for the Arabian Travel Market and Product Presentation.
COA recommended that DOT set a minimum criteria to determine the necessity of foreign travels, considering that there are foreign-based tourism officers who can perform the same tasks.
COA’s recommendations also included setting guidelines for the following:
COA said that in January 2018, the DOT issued Department Order No. 2018-05 “to prevent unnecessary, excessive and extravagant travel expenses.”
The P19-million travel allowances given to Philippine-based officials is separate from the P605 million worth of cash advances given to officials based in the foreign offices where these events were held.
State auditors said there was no proper oversight body to monitor and evaluate the projects and programs of the 12 Philippine Tourism Offices (PTOs) in the US, China, Korea, Germany, Japan, Australia, United Kingdom, and Taiwan.
The P605 million in cash advances, therefore, cannot be assessed for its worth.
“In view of this, we cannot identify what the specific office and/or person responsible for monitoring and evaluating the implementation of policies, plans and programs of each PTO, thereby, hindering the evaluation of each of their accomplishments,” said COA.
Full list of the employees who received travel allowances in 2017 can be seen below:
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In a statement, the DOT maintained that "all travels were official in nature and have adhered to government procedures.” Still, it assured the COA that "review and revisit the agency’s existing guidelines on the foreign travels of its officials and personnel issued January 2018."
The department said that, “if necessary,” it would have "more stringent” guidelines without defaulting on its mandate to promote the country’s image to the international community. – Rappler.com