Fund-starved AMLC will postpone AI initiatives

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FACING a 35-percent budget cut, the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) said it will not be able to push through with its artificial intelligence (AI) initiatives next year.

AMLC Executive Director Mel Georgie B. Racela said in a Senate hearing on Thursday that the agency was gearing toward investing in artificial intelligence next year to improve the analysis of suspicious transactions.

“We intend to delve into artificial intelligence in 2021 because what we currently do is manual analysis of suspicious transaction reports,” he said. “This takes a lot of time for the analysts to do.”

With this in mind, AMLC proposed a P71-million budget for its smart money laundering and terrorist financing detection project in 2021.

However, Racela lamented that only P305,000 was approved, which is less than 1 percent of the proposal.

“So basically, they are shutting down that project,” he said.

The budget for the majority of AMLC’s proposed projects and spending next year were either reduced or denied, according to Racela’s presentation, after the agency received only P85.15 million for 2021. This is 35 percent lower than its 2020 budget of P130.97 million.

Compared to its original proposal, the approved amount is down by around 62 percent from P226.84 million.

Among the items that faced significant budget cuts as well are capacity building program; and assessment and operational planning, council and staff meetings. The former was cut by P20.13 billion to only P600,000 while the latter was reduced by P10.57 million to P900,000.

Meanwhile, the AMLC’s proposed budget for acquiring additional technology and software seen to beef up the cybersecurity of its database was denied.

According to the council’s list, these are the items under data and electrical structured cabling, firewall technology update project and information technology helpdesk tool upgrade. These amount to a total of P6.81 million.

Racela, however, clarified that the 2021 budget cut will not affect the ongoing programs. “There will be no effect in regard to our current 2020 program by the reason of the reduction,” he said.

2021 budget breakdown

Bulk of the approved 2021 budget—or around 80 percent, amounting to P68.26 million—is allocated to maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE).

This is markedly lower compared to this year’s budget of P102.02 million. The original proposal for 2021 submitted by AMLC was P127 million.

Travel expenses top the MOOE list, which amounts to P5.14 million. This is followed tby training and scholarship expenses of P1.31 million.

Other expenses include utility expenses, communication expenses, professional services and repairs and maintenance.

The remaining P16.89 million of the 2021 budget, meanwhile, is earmarked for capital outlay. AMLC asked for P99.83 million earlier for the same item. This year’s budget for the capital outlay was set at P28.94 million.

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