THE management of the National Food Authority welcomes any investigation into the allegations that food officials are making a cash cow out of government-led importations, NFA administrator Jason Laureano Aquino said Tuesday.
He made the statement after Cabinet Secretary and NFA Council Chairman Leoncio B. Evasco Jr. said he will propose the creation of a special committee to investigate the alleged corruption in the government grain importations.
“This is a very serious accusation and it is very sad that this is happening at a crucial time when we should be focusing on helping our farmers who are currently harvesting their summer crop,” Aquino said.
“Instead of pointing the accusing fingers and casting doubts on those who are faithfully implementing the mandates of the agency, we should be focusing our watch over a possible abuse of the import permits given to private rice importers in view of allegations that these permits are being recycled for smuggling purposes.”
Ludovico Jarina, the NFA’s deputy administrator for finance and administration, said the NFA’s rice importations were always being done transparently.
“It goes through a process of inter-agency assessment, recommendation and approval from the National Food Security Committee to the NFA Council to Malacañang.
“The bidding process itself is open to public scrutiny with representatives and observers from the private and public sectors, the Commission on Audit, the farmers’ sector and the media.”
Jarina, who was alleged to have been conniving with Aquino, slammed the insinuation of irregularities in the NFA’s rice importations.
“As deputy administrator for finance and administration, I do not directly supervise the agency’s Grains Marketing Operations Department,” Jarina said.
The volume of rice importation is recommended by the NFSC, which is composed of the director-general of the National Economic Development Authority as chairman, the Deputy National Statistician of the Philippine Statistics Authority as vice-chairman, and the Administrator of the NFA and representatives from the Policy Research Service and National Rice Program of the Department of Agriculture, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, Department of Finance, National Irrigation Administration, Department of Trade and Industry and the weather bureau PAGASA as members.
Based on an assessment by the NFSC of the local harvest and supply situation, the government imports only the shortfall in local harvests for buffer stocking purposes.
The NFSC recommendation is further deliberated on by the NFA Council composed of the Cabinet Secretary as chairman and the NFA administrator as vice chairman.
The members include the Governor of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas and the heads of the Department of Finance, the Department of Trade and Industry and the National Economic and Development Authority, the chairman of the Development Bank of the Philippines, the president of the Land Bank of the Philippines and a representative of the farmers’ sector.
The terms of reference on the government rice importation is published in the NFA website (nfa.gov.ph) that can be accessed by the public.
On the allegation that the NFA has failed to provide the Council copies of the TOR of domestic and international cargo handlers, the NFA management said the agency had nothing to do with it because it was the supplier’s choice.
The NFA said its recommendation to push through with a government-to-government importation referred to the balance of the 500,000 metric-ton importation for 2016 which was approved by the NFA Council.
“This was the subject of the letter of Administrator Aquino to the Vietnam Embassy. Only 250,000 MT was contracted in 2016, thus the NFA is recommending importing the balance of 250,000 MT for this year’s buffer stock in preparation for the lean months,” NFA said.