The 2019 COA Audit Reports: “Masteral” costs of Bagamanoc councilors charged to LGU funds
posted 12-Jul-2019  ·  
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The Bagamanoc municipal government allowed the expenses of five councilors to be charged to public funds while pursuing their Master’s degrees in 2018, the Commission on Audit disclosed in its recently-issued report on the municipality’s transactions.

The report stated that the LGU allowed payments of registration fees, traveling expenses and per diems totaling P370,540 incurred by the members of the Sangguniang Bayan while studying for a master’s degree through a series of seminars at the Philippine Councilors League (PCL) Legislative Academy in Quezon City.

The five SB members, and the cost of their seminar participation, were Juan Velchez Jr. (P66,865), Rey Villarino (P91,925), Sherry Ann Peña (P91,925); Edwin de Leon (P8,860), and Mark Anthony Pascua (P110,965).

Velchez did not run for reelection as councilor, withdrawing from his Sangguniang Panlalawigan bid in the 2019 local elections. Pascua emerged as topnotcher while Villarino, Peña and de Leon were reelected.

During the period from April 12 to June 30, 2018, the councilors attended the three-to-seven-day seminars on various topics such as Theories & Practice, Public Fiscal Administration, Social Marketing, National Governance & Research Conference for Government Officials & Employees, Management & Administration of Social & Economic Change, and Production & Operation Management.

Launched in 2011 as a partnership with the University of Makati, the academy offered a 36-unit curriculum leading to a degree of Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, major in Local Governance Administration, as well as a masteral course leading to a degree of Master in Development Management and Governance, Tribune research showed.

The enrollee can finish either of the courses in 14 to 20 months for just P75,000 in tuition fees.

Upon request of the PCL leadership, then DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo issued Memorandum Circular No. 2011-180 encouraging local chief executives to allow members of their sanggunians and other interested local government officials and personnel who wish to avail of the course offerings of the Academy, to attend on official business.

The circular stated that the payment of applicable traveling expenses, hotel accommodation and participation fees may be authorized chargeable against local funds, subject to fund availability and accounting and auditing requirements, provided the traveling expenses and participation fees shall not be charged against the 20% component of the Internal Revenue Allotment.

The 2018 audit report, however, cited, among others, Section 4(2) of Presidential Decree 1445, which states that government funds or property shall be spent or used solely for public purposes.

“It should be noted that post-graduate studies such as master’s degree is considered personal in nature because only the official or employee pursuing it will primarily benefit from it and not the agency,” the government watchdog stressed. “Thus expenses incurred in relation to such course shall not be charged against public funds unless the LGU has an existing scholarship program for post-graduate studies or has appropriated funds for that purpose.”

The local chief executive and municipal accountant admitted that they were not aware of the fact that the seminars would lead to a master’s degree and that the LGU has no such scholarship program and did not appropriate funds for the purpose.

Also coming into scrutiny by the audit team was the low collection efficiency of the Municipal Treasurer’s Office as far as Real Property and Special Education Fund (SEF) taxes are concerned.

A comparison of the total collectibles based on the report of the Municipal Assessor’s Office against actual income collected for the period 2016 to 2018 showed a collection efficiency of only 5.7 percent, 5.8 percent and 14.9 percent, respectively.

The audit showed that for the three-year period, the LGU should have collected a total of P4,294,843.62, out of which it was entitles to P1,932,679.63 as its share. However it collected only a total of P185,412.94, with its share much less.

The mayor apologized for the low collection, explaining that the previous municipal treasurers had been too preoccupied with their retirement that they neglected their duties.

He and the acting treasurer vowed to implement measures to improve collections, including the regular submission of the list of delinquent taxpayers to the Sangguniang Bayan to assist in the enforcement of collection remedies.

On the other hand, the COA noted that five of seven infrastructure projects funded by the national government were not completed on time, with the LGU approving the contractors’ requests for extension of contract time even without valid basis.

The five projects, with a total project cost of P20.2 million, were listed as follows: Construction of Suchan Day Care Center, Realm Construction & Trading, P1 million, 100 days delayed; Construction of Cahan Day Care Center, Realm Construction & Trading, P1 million, 94 days delayed; Construction of Local Access Road in Bagatabao, Eco Builders & Supply, P5.4 million, 145 days delayed; Provision of Potable Water Supply in Nagrubog, Delcare Water Treatment, P7.8 million, 97 days delayed; and, Construction/Renovation of Municipal Health Center, Herbana Buildings & Supply, P5 million, 417 days delayed.

Only the documents for the Nagrubog project were provided to the audit team, which found that the request for time extension was supported by rainfall data issued by PAGASA for February and March 2018, during which the contractor claimed having adverse weather conditions.

The team found that majority of the days during the two months were partly cloudy to cloudy, with 12 and 16 days of zero rainfall.

Among the other significant findings were: non-submission of copies of contracts and variation order for infra projects within five days upon perfection; low, 18% utilization of the 70% LDRRMF Mitigation Fund; several employees with net take-home pay lower than P5,000; and, closure of controlled dumpsite without the approved closure and rehabilitation plan.

However, the audit team commended the LGU management for the effective implementation of Gender and Development (GAD) programs and projects, as well as the 80% implementation of 20% Economic Development Fund (EDF) projects.

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