THE Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) said in a study that changes are needed in the function and staffing of the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) to effectively operate in a free-irrigation environment.
In a research paper, “Assessment of the Free Irrigation Service Act,” the authors of the study said the NIA reorganization is required in order to operate in the new market conditions imposed by Republic Act No. 10969, or the Free Irrigation Service Act (FISA).
FISA, which took effect in February 2018, exempted farmers with landholdings of eight hectares or less from paying irrigation services fees (ISFs). According to the study, such landowners account for 98% of farms in the Philippines.
The study concluded that NIA should focus on its core mandate of operating and maintaining irrigation systems after the passage of the law.
“With the repeal of the collection of ISF, NIA is no longer expected to generate revenue. FISA covers budgetary requirements for operations and maintenance as well as the capital cost of irrigation systems,” according to the study.
“This implies that NIA, a government office mandated to develop all possible water sources for irrigation, is transitioning from a fee-collecting agency to one that specializes in technical assistance, contract design, and performance monitoring,” it added.
The authors urged NIA to hire staff with experience in capacity building, monitoring, and evaluating the irrigation management transfer program.
The PIDS study said the delay in the release of staff salaries under the old system will also be avoided since FISA mandates that the funding for operations and maintenance be remitted directly to the NIA.
One of the authors’ recommendations is for the government to explore water saving to qualify for subsidies for operations and maintenance.
“The current set of performance indicators provided in the implementing rules and regulations relate only to irrigation service, rather than longer-term issues of sustainability and water resource management,” according to the study.
Some of the other recommendations made by the study include a provision to increase the operations and maintenance subsidy, and a mandatory review to compare FISA with other social protection schemes.
“The aim is to evaluate whether the FISA is an effective instrument for delivering benefits for the poorest and most marginalized, relative to these other social protection schemes,” the study said.
Asked to comment, the NIA’s Office of Public Affairs and Information staff said in an e-mail that the agency is in the process of evaluating its organizational design.
“The NIA organizational strengthening is underway to meet the staff requirement of the evolving function and direction of the agency as embodied in the National Irrigation Master Plan 2020-2030,” it said.
The authors of the PIDS study are Roehlano M. Briones, Roberto S. Clemente, Arlene B. Inocencio, Roger A. Luyun, Jr., and Agnes C. Rola. — Revin Mikhael D. Ochave