A TOP Philippine senator has called for the scrapping of the country's tourism department amid allegations of widespread corruption. Finance committee chairman Ernesto Maceda said the department was packed with political appointees with few professional skills, and urged congress to withhold its annual appropriation. Last year, the department received 429 million pesos (about HK$130.84 million). Mr Maceda, who also heads the senate's Investigative Blue Ribbon Committee, said the department was a ''wastebasket of incompetents awarded with political spoils''. He said the department would be put at the top of a list of agencies to be scrapped unless it came up with an effective plan to restructure itself. The allegations surfaced as the department is embarking on an ambitious plan to encourage incoming and domestic tourism in the country. Mr Maceda said: ''Hundreds of millions of pesos are squandered in the department because of rampant corruption, inferior internal management and a surfeit of unqualified personnel lodged in this unfortunate agency. ''Most of the department's staff deployed abroad are political appointees. A great number of them have overstayed and have piled up a small fortune of unliquidated advances.'' As far as attracting tourists to the Philippines, Mr Maceda said the department had failed miserably, citing arrival figures last year of only about one million. ''Our tourism industry today could hardly be described as robust. ''We drew barely one million visitors yearly for the last 10 years while Hongkong, Singapore and Bangkok now attract six million a year.'' Mr Maceda said his findings were merely the tip of the iceberg and he wanted congress to launch a full-scale inquiry into the alleged improprieties. Among the allegations are that contracts are awarded to friends of under-secretaries and officials are packaging anomalous contracts. No names were mentioned in Mr Maceda's speech, although he harshly criticised Acting Tourism Secretary Vicente Carlos as a man obsessed with gambling casinos. Responding to the allegations, Mr Carlos said he would welcome any probe into his department. ''We have since the onset of the Ramos administration embarked on plans and programs to boost the tourism industry in the country,'' Mr Carlos said.