• Manila Water collected P1B for ‘white elephant’

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    THE Water for all Refund Movement (WARM) on Wednesday claimed that Manila Water collected P1 billion from its customers for the Pinugay project, which the group called a “white elephant” because the facility remained unfinished and not operational.

    WARM President Rodolfo Javellana said that the project covers the development of three hectares of land in Baras, Rizal province into a water system but only 1.7 hectares have been finished so far.

    “This is a P1 billion project that until now ay di pa operational pero nakolekta na in advance sa water consumers ng Manila Water,” Javellana told The Manila Times.

    “Magandang example ito ng advance collections pero until now di pa tapos. Matagal nang bayad nating mga water consumers ang project na ito,” he explained.

    The group earlier claimed that the two water concessionaires Maynilad and Manila Water collected P43 billion from their customers for undelivered services.

    Javellana issued the statement as the Commission on Audit (COA) said the hiring of more consultants by the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) is illegal.

    In an audit observation memorandum addressed to MWSS Administrator Gerardo Esquivel last year, COA noted nine deficiencies and irregularities in the hiring of additional consultants for the period.

    OIC Supervising Auditor Eyren Yulde and audit team leader Angela Bulos said that similar to the consultants hired by Esquivel in 2011, the consultants he hired last year were engaged without public bidding as required under RA 9184.

    The State auditors said the consultants were hired despite a moratorium on the hiring of casuals or contractual employees, including personnel on consultancy/emergency job order basis in all government agencies whose Rationalization Plan has not been approved as provided under Executive Order No. 366.

    Moreover, the auditors said the hiring of the consultants is redundant because “there are available MWSS personnel who can perform the designated duties and responsibilities of the hired consultants, negating the necessity of hiring.”

    Such confirmation backs a graft charge filed by the agency’s labor union against Esquivel and the Board of Trustees last year.

    Members of the MWSS Labor Association (MLA), in a criminal complaint filed before the Office of the Ombudsman, accused the officials of illegally hiring and paying for the services of an excessive number of consultants.

    The COA also noted that the number of consultants hired were excessive because “(a)nalysis of the purposes for which these consultants were employed indicated that they exceeded the number of consultants required for some of the services.”

    The auditors cited the financial management consultant hired to do the following services—make an integrated design of a new organization for the Finance Department; design a small automation template for walk-in collections, budget monitoring activity and billings; review of 2012 financial projects against actual financial projects; and assist the Task Force created to undertake inventory reconciliation of third party prepayments, construction-in-progress, real property and general administrative equipment in the approach methodology and monitoring implementation.

    The auditors said the reorganization of the finance department may be done by the RAT Plan Team and its other functions may be done by regular staff of the MWSS Finance Department.

    Furthermore, the state auditors noted the seemingly sluggish performance of the consultants. They disclosed that the financial management consultants were supposed to reconcile the accounts but their audit of the 2012 transactions showed that “there are balances of group accounts that are still subject to reconciliation and verification as of December 31, 2012.”

    “Moreover, there are still major line accounts with huge unreconciled balances as of December 31, 2012 totaling P1.8 billion which will be the subject of another audit observation memorandum,” the auditors said.

    They also stated that two other consultants who were hired since 2011 to substantiate MWSS’ claims against the two water concessionaires with respect to guaranty deposits of inactive customers prior to privatization have yet to do their job.

    The graft charge filed by the MLA in June 2012 accused the MWSS management of irregularly disbursing P14.9 million in government funds to pay for the services of the consultants and job order personnel.

    The Ombudsman, after a year, forwarded the matter to Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa asking the Office of the President to act on the complaint against Esquivel.

    Assistant Ombudsman Leilanie Bernadette Cabras, in a letter dated June 18, 2013, said the anti-graft agency is giving Malacañang “an opportunity to exercise your administrative disciplinary authority” against a presidential appointee.

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