COA disallows California trip

Unless the concerned officials can convince the state auditors that the controversial trip to Alameda City, California, USA was “urgent, extremely necessary and directly beneficial” to Dumaguete City, the Commission on Audit mayis recommending a refund for the travel costs amounting to P610, 533.68 charged against government funds.

Former Mayor now 2nd District Congressman Manuel Sagarbarria, former Councilor Danilo T. Leon, former City Legal Officer Neil Ray M. Lagahit and former City Tourism Officer Woodrow C. Maquiling Jr. each incurred P152, 633.42 cash advances on May 13 and 22, 2015 for their travel to Alameda City “for the purpose of attending a series of conferences, trainings and exchanges relative to and in fostering the sistercity affiliation on June 4-8, 2015.”

However, the state auditors cited Section 7 of Executive Order No. 248, which provides that official travel abroad of government personnel shall cover only those, which are urgent and extremely necessary, will involve minimum expenditure and are expected to bring immediate benefit to the country. And the Alameda trip was not extremely urgent, COA said.

Furthermore, Administrative Order No. 103 dated August 13, 2004, which remains in full force and effect, directs the continued adoption and implementation of austerity measures to include “suspension of all travels, except for ministerial meetings and scholarship trainings that are grant-funded or undertaken at no cost to the government.”

COA opines that the visit to Alameda City did not fall under any of the above categories. The COA report added that liquidation documents of the City Tourism Officer showed that they only attended the sister-city agreement conference, there was no program/training designs or schedules on the series of activities attended to support that the purpose of the trip as stated in cash advance voucher was actually undertaken and no supporting document was produced that that trip brought immediate benefit to the city.

In justifying the trip, a copy of the Memorandum of Understanding was attached which enumerates the commitment of the two cities to “deepen exchanges and cooperation in the fields of economy and trade, science and technology and culture.”

The City Accountant also explained that it was beyond their responsibility to determine whether the trip was urgent and extremely necessary since the four city officials were granted authority by the Department of Interior and Local Government thus the trip must have passed that requirement.

The COA team was unconvinced and even questioned why the mayor entered into such an agreement that is valid for 5 years when his term would end a year after.

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