DOT did not monitor how Tourism offices spent ₱605 million – COA

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Tourism secretary Wanda Teo says tourism industry still looks bright.

Updated to include the statements from the Department of Tourism.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 12) — The Commission on Audit flagged the millions in cash advances the Department of Tourism gave to its foreign offices without monitoring how the funds were utilized.

COA, in its 2017 report on DOT, said the agency, then headed by Secretary Wanda Teo, gave P605.26 million in cash advances to 12 of its offices located in the U.S., China, South Korea, Germany, Japan, Australia, UK, and Taiwan.

It raised the alarm that there was no oversight body to keep track of the foreign offices' respective programs, activities, and projects.

"In view of this, we cannot identify 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," COA said.

It added, "Given the considerable funds being spent for PTO (Philippine Tourism Offices) operations, adequate monitoring and supervision should be conducted."

COA said DOT should keep track of the cash advances given to tourism attachés to identify whether government funds were spent properly and effectively.

The auditing body recommended that DOT should designate a division and a point person that will regularly monitor and evaluate the programs of its foreign officers. COA said DOT officials will issue an order.

Foreign trips worth ₱19 million

Nearly a hundred tourism officials and employees attended foreign junkets in 2017, costing the government ₱19.3 million in travel allowances, COA found.

It said 94 Tourism officials and employees traveled on foreign junkets in 2017, with Teo taking five foreign trips worth ₱863,959.

COA said despite the frequent travels of the agency, there is a lack of specific guidelines to determine who are required to attend international tourism-related activities.

"There are no specific guidelines on foreign travels by the DOT-CO (Central Office) personnel... exposing the government to risks of incurring expenditures for excessive and extravagant travels abroad," the report read.

COA recommended DOT to create a committee that will create guidelines on the number of staff required to participate in activities abroad, the duration of stay, and allowable amount of travel allowance.

DOT on January 10 issued Department Order No. 2018-05 "to prevent unnecessary, excessive and extravagant travel expenses." A few days later, President Rodrigo Duterte signed an executive order limiting travels of Executive branch officials.

DOT, in a statement, said the foreign junkets of their employees were aboveboard. It said it will review its existing guidelines.

"While the Department of Tourism (DOT) reiterates that all travels were official in nature and have adhered to government procedures, it assures the Commission on Audit (COA) that it will review and revisit the agency's existing guidelines on the foreign travels of its officials and personnel issued January 2018, and if necessary, come up with a more stringent version," it said.