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Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Ramon J. P. Paje has designated a senior official to head the Internal Audit and Anti-Corruption Office in a move to fortify the anti-corruption program in the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

In DENR Special Order No. 2011-177 issued on March 3, 2011, Paje named Assistant Secretary Daniel M. Nicer, a lawyer, to directly supervise the Internal Audit Service (IAS) of the agency, as well as exercise supervision and control over the Personnel Investigation Division of the Legal Service, and the Special Action and Investigation Division.

This, despite an earlier announcement by the Pulse Asia, which found the DENR to have made an impressive leap to 4th place, from 8th in 1999, in the rooster of top10 agencies considered as “least corrupt”. The Pulse Asia Survey was conducted from February 24-March 6 this year.

“That the DENR is the only regulatory agency to have made it to the Top 4 of the least corrupt agencies comes as a solid affirmation that an appreciably degree of effectiveness must have gone into our house-cleaning efforts, thereby earning the kind of respect we are beginning to enjoy among our kababayan,” Paje said, noting that all the first three placers were service-oriented agencies led by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Department of Health (DOH), and the Department of Education (DepEd).

While saying that a strong headstart has been made in key areas of the DENR’s operations, particularly in the central office, Paje recognized that removing the conditions for graft in the field offices where majority of its 25,000-strong workforce are stationed, as the “most defining benchmark”.

Among the policy reforms which Paje instituted since his assumption of the DENR leadership last July include the donation of confiscated forest products to the Department of Education instead of the putting these under public auction.

“It has been the practice before that once the apprehended logs, lumber or other forest products have been confiscated in favor of the government, these were turned over to the Natural Resources Development Corp. (NRDC) for public auction. The unfortunate thing here is that anybody can join the public auction, including those suspected of having a hand in the illegal logging activities,” Paje explained.

This situation, said Paje, is now being addressed with the recent directive of President Benigno S. Aquino III for the DENR to give priority to DepEd in the donation of the confiscated forest products, and the signing last week of a memorandum of agreement by the DENR with DepEd, the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), and PAGCOR, for the conversion of the donated forest products into desks, armchairs, cabinets and other school furniture.

Paje likewise instituted a drastic reform measure in the mining sector by ordering the cleansing of pending mining applications in the Mines and Geo-sciences Bureau (MGB) and its regional offices nationwide. Also up for final action by the agency are exploration contracts that have already expired for five years or more and mining contracts whose three-year program have not been implemented for two consecutive years.

Other anti-corruption measures in place in the DENR include the installation of close-circuit television cameras, posting of process flow charts in strategic places, adoption of the DENR Citizen’s Charter and the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards, all of which were also published in all websites of the department’s bureaus and regional offices.

Despite the positive survey findings, Paje urged his officials and subordinates not to be complacent. He said, “The score should continue to remind us that we are far from winning the fight against corruption. Yes, we may have made some gains but corruption remains an enormous drain on the country’s resources which can better be used for improved social services.”

Other tasks assigned to Nicer include the conduct of investigations involving corruption by officials and personnel and the filing of appropriate cases in the proper forum, conduct and supervision of training and seminars for administrative reforms and anti-corruption, monitoring of specific anti-corruption programs and projects of the Department, and the updating and enhancement of all anti-corruption instruments and activities of the DENR.