Transport Secretary defends DOTr underspending

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 18) — The Department of Transportation (DOTr) on Monday defended itself after the Commission on Audit (COA) found it underspent by ₱39 billion.

Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade disputed the idea that the DOTr was not doing its job on Tuesday. He also assured the public that the money was not lost.

"Yung hindi na-obligate, iyon ho yung babalik sa gobyerno. Yung na-obligate... maski na na-delay ang disbursement, hindi ho nawala yung pera," said Tugade.

[Translation: (The money) that wasn't obligated will go back to government. Money that was obligated... even with a delayed disbursement is not missing.]

The COA's 2017 Annual Audit Report released on July 12 revealed that the Department only utilized and disbursed ₱18 billion, about 25.60 percent of its ₱71 billion budget. At least 80.90 percent of this — or ₱57 billion — had been obligated, or set aside for the agency to spend.

The report came amid commuter dissatisfaction over the state of traffic and public transportation. The COA attributed the underspending to the "slow implementation" of 144 locally funded and nine foreign-assisted projects.

The agency noted an extended or delayed procurement process for ₱7 billion worth of projects. Among those are two airports, extensions on the Light Rail Transit (LRT) Lines 1 and 2, technical support for the Cebu Bus Rapid Transit System, and the rehabilitation of the Metro Rail Transit (MRT)-3 — particularly in its rail replacement and CCTV surveillance network.

Tugade explained funding for bus rapid transport lines in Metro Manila and Cebu were unused because the projects were scrapped for inefficiency.

He added the ₱1.6 billion budget for the LRT-1 extension was reverted to the National Treasury due to construction problems, while ₱2.3 billion for the MRT-3 rehabilitation was unspent after the government cut its contract with then-service provider Busan Universal Rail Inc.

Tugade said DOTr will conduct procurement activities early to fast-track the utilization of its budget next year. He also said they would expedite in-house preparations for the detailed engineering and design of projects.

The agency will require contractors to submit regular billings so that payment may be released on time.

CNN Philippines correspondent Xianne Arcangel contributed to this report.