Solon seeks DSWD reforms in future ‘ayuda’ distribution


SAYING the Duterte government would still have to prepare for mobilizing future ayuda in case of any lockdowns, Senator Imee Marcos pushed for the lowering or even scuttling of hefty service fees by government-contracted financial technology (fintech) providers. The senator also seeks for a unified database among agencies giving different forms of assistance.

Marcos said in a radio interview over the weekend that even as Metro Manila and key cities have graduated to the looser alert levels that allow for economic reopening, the government still has to fine-tune its system for providing “ayuda” in the future, including the biggest-funded social amelioration program (SAP) under the Bayanihan 1 and Bayanihan 2 laws.

This, Marcos said, prompted her to push for the speedy approval of the 2022 budget of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), which the Senate Finance subcommittee will hear anew this coming week. However, she lamented, the DSWD still had to persuade senators it had ironed out the issues raised by some of them with regard to the agency’s performance in giving out SAP in 2020 and 2021.

For one, Marcos noted, the top fintech partner of DSWD, Starpay, was unable to distribute a substantial part of the SAP―with amounts of P5,000 to P8,000 per beneficiary on behalf of the government―and ended up returning P8 billion to the State.

Also, fintech partners are already “earning much” from being awarded the contracts by government, so they should either scuttle the P50 per transaction fee deducted from each beneficiary, or at the very least, “reduce their fees,” Marcos added.

Data quality issues

The chairman of the Economic Affairs committee, noting DSWD’s excuse about “data quality issues” being behind the fintech firms’ failure to distribute all of the SAP, stressed the need to have a “unified database” among all agencies that give out assistance, precisely to avoid questions involving some beneficiaries getting assistance from multiple agencies.

Besides DSWD, the agencies that were mandated to give assistance to their respective constituencies under the Bayanihan laws were the agriculture (DA), labor and employment (DOLE) and finance (DOF) departments through the Social Security System for the small business wage subsidy program.

Meanwhile, in the same interview, DSWD Assistant Secretary Glenda D. Relova explained that DSWD was still cleaning up the remainder of the beneficiaries’ list in order to dispose of the unpaid-out assistance. She said this mostly pertains to the second tranche of the SAP under Bayanihan 1. This was coursed through the financial service provider, but “because of data quality issues, this could not be given out.

Relova also explained that some of the funds stuck with them pertained to so-called “grievance cases,” or those who are protesting their non-receipt of ayuda. She explained that in such cases, the local government unit concerned may have delisted these people from the DSWD list because they were reportedly already recipients of aid under other agencies’ programs, like those of the DOLE’s.

Conceding Marcos’s point about the need for a unified data base, Relova admitted the “need to reconcile with other database systems, because they [constituents] might have already received assistance from other agencies [like DOLE, DOF-SSS, DTI].”

She also explained that it is only the LGUs and the DSWD that can correct the list of beneficiaries in a particular area.

Asked if the funds can still be paid out since the Bayanihan 1 and Bayanihan 2 laws have lapsed, Relova said the “funds have been obligated,” so the ayuda can still be given out once data issues are resolved.

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