By ALI G. MACABALANG
The National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) has vehemently denied any irregularity in its handling of funds for the 2019 Islamic Pilgrimage or Hajj of 7,243 Filipinos in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), taking exception to a Commission on Audit (COA) report published in The Manila Bulletin on Aug. 29.
In a statement on Tuesday, Aug. 31, NCMF Secretary Saidamen Pangarungan described as “seemingly unbalanced reporting” of the 2020 audit report titled “COA Flags P397-M disbursements of the NCMF in the 2019 Hajj.”
On Hajj disbursements, Pangarungan said, “all of the expenses paid coming from the mutawiff (service fees) of the 7,243 pilgrims in the 2019 hajj is documented and accounted for. Not one peso is missing in our books, neither is there any showing of misappropriation.”
He said the NCMF has provided earlier the COA with the following documents and justifications in evidence of the propriety of the flagged disbursement:
(1) Certificate of Financial Clearance issued by the hotel provider Maad al-Masiyah Company (MAAD) that NCMF has fully paid all its obligations and accountabilities pursuant to its hotel contract with MAAD;
(2) Confirmation of the Official Receipts issued by MAAD to the Philippine Consul General in Jeddah, KSA; and
(3) Official Receipts issued by the hotel provider and justifications that address COA-perceived discrepancies.
“(The) COA knows that MAAD and the other Saudi hotels do not, and have never, maintained record of the guest list because of the sheer number of 2 to 3 million pilgrims being billeted in Saudi hotels during the annual Hajj. The COA has received all this documentation ahead of time before the crafting of the audit report. In the report they have noted our various submissions for further validation,” Pangarungan said.
He aired dismay that “such validation has not been done before the drafting of their Annual Audit Report despite the NCMF’s faithful compliance to all the Audit Observation Memorandums regarding the 2019 Hajj.”
He said the NCMF “is left wondering if, by asking for the impossible, COA seems to be engaged in faultfinding.”
On the contrary, he said, the NCMF is “extremely proud of its achievement in the 2019 Hajj,” citing the 7,243 pilgrims’ unprecedented billeting in five-star hotels in front of Prophet Mohammad mosque in Madinah and in 4.7-star hotels in Makkah, compared to substandard housing of past hajj goers in “decrepit hotels far from the two Holy Mosques.”
“In one past pilgrimage, the NCMF was sued by a hotel provider in Saudi courts for the non-payment of P12-M hotel accommodations. (But we) had successfully negotiated with creditors to waive the debts (of) past administrations. If MAAD was not fully paid…as insinuated in the audit report, why is it that the NCMF did not receive any demand letter or a court summons after…the 2019 hajj,” asked Pangurangan who was appointed NCMF chief in July 2019.
The COA report has faulted the NCMF on job order (JO) employees, stating that such workers were duplicating tasks being performed by existing employees of the agency.
But Pangarungan argued that “COA refuses to see the fact that at the start of the COVID 19 pandemic in early2020, additional job order employees were requested by (NCMF) Bureau, Service and Regional Directors because of sheer inadequacy of personnel as only 15%-20% of our workforce are reporting for work pursuant to CSC-mandated work arrangements that allow employees to work at home.”
He said the “COA should shift paradigm given the unique challenges of times instead of finding fault on conventional grounds such as duplicity of functions,” adding that the NCMF actually finds relief in hiring job order (JO) workers as because Muslims were not spared from the layoffs and joblessness brought about by the lockdowns and quarantines.
“This (JO worker hiring) is allowed by COA-DBM Joint Circular 1 series of 2020 or the ‘Interim Guidelines Governing Contract of Service (COS) and JO Workers in Government’ in response to the pandemic,” he said.
On cash advances, he said, “only 10.25% of the unliquidated cash advances were incurred from 2018 to 2020 during my watch.”
He said the remaining 89.75% of all the cash advances were incurred in previous administrations in the span of six years from the passage of R.A. 9997 creating the NCMF.
“Nonetheless, I have ordered the NCMF Finance and Management Service to collect and re-send demand letters to accountable officials who have yet to liquidate the cash advances under their names,” Pangarungan said.
The COA annual report has mentioned auditors’ failure to find documents that show the purpose of two (2) laptops, two (2) tablets and two (2) cameras procured through small value procurement by the Bids and Awards Committee (BAC).
Pangarungan replied: “We have already ordered the BAC to provide the COA with the purchase requests indicating the justification. But this Commission finds it obvious that additional two (2) laptops, tablets and cameras apart from the 220 already procured is absolutely needed for a Commission with 924 plantilla positions.”
He refuted the COA report for implying an unnecessary purchase of high-end electronic gadgets, saying that a highly functioning national agency like the NCMF requires technological advancement in a nationwide operation especially in the advent of the global health pandemic.
Mutawiff fees not state funds
Pangarungan also clarified that mutawiff (service fees) paid by the pilgrims are not GAA funds being kept in a Trust Fund separate from the GAA General Fund.
“The mutawiff is meant to pay for all the services incurred by pilgrims during the Hajj. Not being government funds, we express our reservation on the jurisdiction of COA’s prying eyes on this purely private fund,” he stressed.
He said the NCMF is now working on its formal reply and agency action plan to the findings appearing in the subject Annual Audit Report within prescription period, airing confidence the COA will find such plan of action and additional submissions to “be in order.” (AGM)