Group fears new fertilizer scam

June 15, 2020

AN umbrella group of agricultural stakeholders has asked the Senate to investigate the allegedly overpriced P1.8 billion fertilizer supply contracts funded under an emergency stimulus program meant to minimize the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on farmers.

Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG) chairman Rosendo So said farmers themselves have complained that the Department of Agriculture's (DA) supply contract for urea fertilizer was grossly disadvantageous to the government as the price per bag was way higher than the average retail price of P850.

The DA has allocated P5.69 billion for the procurement of urea fertilizer at P1,000 per bag under its stimulus program Ahon Lahat, Pagkaing Sapat Kontra Covid-19 (ALPAS sa Covid-19).

The DA already bid 1.7m bags at P995/bag, way above the prevailing retail price.

"A negotiated bidding should even be lower than retail price, mas mababa pa dapat ito sa P850/bag" lamented So.

"Fertilizer bought by farmers themselves fetch for only P830 to P850/ bag. This shows that the purchase of these urea fertilizer by the DA Central Office was utterly disadvantageous to the government and to our farmers; especially now when we need all the funds available to survive this pandemic," So said.

SINAG adds that the DA was in fact in a position to negotiate for a cheaper price because they are dealing with importers that handle bulk orders. 

"We call on the Senate to take the cudgels up for our farmers who have been betrayed by the very officials who are supposed to help them recover from the adverse effects of COVID-19. We ask our senators to immediately investigate this and take to task those who are behind this anomalous deal," he added.

So said Senator Cynthia Villar was among those who alerted SINAG on the bidding for urea fertilizer.

In SINAG's letter to Agriculture Secretary William Dar, the group said the alleged overpriced contracts defeated the purpose of centralizing the bidding process that was meant to cut avenues for corruption in the department.

“We must remember that funds secured for this bidding process came from an emergency fund to help our farmers cope with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. We do not want a repeat of another full-blown Senate investigation but all data so far will lead to the conclusion of a new 'fertilizer scam' orchestrated amid the pandemic,” So said.

“The figures are embarrassingly high: May kumikita sa pandemya,” he added.

So also noted that prior to the ALPAS program, Dar himself opted to switch to a centralized bidding process after receiving complaints on previous winning bids that were higher than the prevailing outlet prices.

“The expectation of the industry was clear. Centralization of the bidding would mean a lower or a price similar to the prevailing market price of only P850-880 per bag. Please also note that since the bidding was a bidding of importers, the bidding price should have been much lower,” the SINAG head added.

So called on Dar to rescind the allegedly anomalous contract, noting that the difference between the winning bids and the prevailing market price would have been enough to buy more than half a million more bags of urea fertilizer.

“We will not hesitate to file cases if this situation is not addressed. The Bids and Awards Committee will be hard pressed to explain this fiasco,” So continued.

“It is still within your authority (Secretary Dar) to correct this growing perception that the centralization of the bidding process was to centralize corruption at the Central Office,” So concluded.