Another road mess
Updated March 12, 2009 12:00 AM
From street lamps in Cebu for the ASEAN summit to bidding for a World Bank-funded road project and now to funds for road repairs, corruption scandals hound the Department of Public Works and Highways.
A 2007 report prepared by the Commission on Audit confirmed allegations hurled by some congressmen that about P50 billion collected as road user’s tax or the Motor Vehicles User’s Charge, paid by the public when a vehicle is registered, has been misused. The tax is administered by the Road Users’ Tax Board, which is headed by the DPWH chief and is under the Office of the President. Yesterday Malacañang said there were inaccuracies in the COA report.
But congressmen and the COA were not the only ones to question the utilization of the road tax. Way back in July 2007, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago had filed a resolution, directing the DPWH and the Road Board to account for the road user’s tax. Under Republic Act 8794, the road tax should be used exclusively for road maintenance and improvement of road drainage, the installation of traffic lights and road safety devices, and air pollution control. The resolution declared: “Since its implementation in 2001, this fund has degenerated into a pork-barrel item, far from its original intention…” The Senate has not tackled the points Santiago raised in her resolution.
The Road Board also includes the secretaries of finance, budget and management, and transportation and communications. The board’s executive director said it is the Land Transportation Office that collects the road tax and remits it to the treasury. All the offices involved in supervising, collecting or utilizing this tax should not conduct an investigation of the alleged fund misuse, especially because the amount involved could warrant an indictment for plunder.
With Malacañang already calling the COA report inaccurate, it looks unlikely that anyone will be found culpable and punished for the alleged anomaly before June 2010. But the COA detailed the possible ways by which the road tax was misused, and the auditors’ work must not go to waste. Those opportunities for fund misuse must be plugged, through the passage of legislation and new administrative rules.