DESPITE an initial request by the Commission on Audit (COA) to make confidential its preliminary report on the Makati City Hall Building 2, the Senate blue ribbon sub-committee on Thursday forced the state auditor to divulge it even if the city government is yet to give its comment on the report.
This prompted Makati City Administrator Eleno Mendoza to describe the move as “patently unfair” and in violation of established COA rules.
“As a rule, COA audits are confidential in nature because the office being audited has the right to reply and explain the findings since preliminary findings are not conclusive findings,” Mendoza said.
He added that under the COA rules, the agency being audited is asked to submit its replies and comments on preliminary audit findings to COA, which then calls the agency to an exit conference where the findings and corresponding comments are discussed.
“Only after such a conference does COA render a final report,” Mendoza said.
“The COA official emphasized these during the hearing but was forced to read his report anyway against his objection. This is patently unfair to the city government, which [is]yet to see and comment on the said findings,” he added.
At the resumption of the blue ribbon sub-committee hearing, Sen. Aquilino Pimentel 3rd presented a sealed brown envelope containing the preliminary report of COA on the Makati City Hall Building 2 that was marked confidential.
COA Commissioner Jose Favia explained that they wanted the report to be confidential.
But Pimentel said his committee could not grant the request of COA because of the overwhelming public interest in the issue.
Favia then asked Alexander Juliano, director-in-charge of the Fraud Audit Office (FAO), to read the contents of the report before the committee.
Before proceeding, Jualiano manifested his reservations.
“I want to put on record my reservation regarding Republic Act 3019 particularly Section 3(k), on premature disclosure,” he told the members of the sub-committee.
Section 3(K) of Republic Act 3019 makes unlawful “divulging valuable information of a confidential character, acquired by his office or by him on account of his official position to unauthorized persons, or releasing such information in advance of its authorized release date.”
But Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano said there is no violation because he is not divulging the information to unauthorized persons and as an official sub-committee of the Senate, it is within their powers to direct COA to release the report to the public.
Lawyer JV Bautista, interim secretary general of the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), scored the sub-committee, noting that the report was confidential in nature.
“The senators again showed their bias when they forced the COA representative to reveal the preliminary findings of their special audit on Makati City Hall Building 2. Such reports are confidential since Makati has not been given the opportunity to answer them,” Bautista said.
COA in its preliminary report supposedly found six potential indicators of deficiency or “red flags” in the implementation of the project.
It noted the project was implemented with undue haste as there were no construction plans yet when it was bidded out and awarded to Hillmarc’s Construction Corp.
The state auditor also found that variances between the approved budget for contact (ABC) and the bids tendered by Hillmarc’s for the five phases were less than a quarter of the 1 percent of the ABC.
According to Juliano, the initial investigation conducted by his office was simply to determine if there is a necessity for COA to conduct a special audit report on the building project.