MWSS chair Alikpala denies employees accusations; no laws violatedBy Totel V. de Jesus
INQUIRER.net, Radyo Inquirer 990AM
MANILA, Philippines—Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) chairman Ramon Alikpala clarified issues Wednesday morning on alleged unlawful cancellation of employees’ benefits and accusations on him and other officials allegedly still receiving bonuses and perks.
“We are on the process of making reforms. Those benefits, whether for employees or officials, if without legal basis have to be removed. For example, the meal allowances of P150 a day have to be removed because they’ve been integrated in their salary already based on the salary standardization law,” Alikpala, speaking in Filipino, told anchors Den Macaranas, Captain Dylan Halili and Susak K of “Good Morning Inquirer” on Radyo Inquirer 990 AM.
“Two weeks ago, the board has decided to do what’s right so we remove those benefits,” he said, citing an example wherein a driver was receiving P97,000 for years until 2009 or during the end of the Arroyo administration.
“Now after removing these benefits, it’s been reduced to P36,000, which, if you think about it, is still twice bigger than what employees of other companies are receiving,” he said.
He said he understands the reaction of these employees because he used to be an employee too.
“They’re used to having higher salary and they have mortgages to pay, children to send to schools. I know there will be demoralization among the ranks. But we have to do what’s legal and what’s right. Sometimes, what’s legal and right might not be best for everyone,” he said.
He said if these employees will file cases, they—MWSS officials—are ready because there’s legal basis.
On Sunday, Nap Quiñones, MWSS Labor Association president, in a radio interview said nothing has changed in the present MWSS setup, accusing Alikpala and members of the MWSS as well as consultants for enjoying the same perks of their predecessors during the Arroyo administration.
His cause was supported by Rodolfo Javellana, Jr., president of the Water For All Refund Movement (WARM), a non-government organization, who said the public should join in fighting the blatant abuses of MWSS officials.
On hiring ‘redundant’ consultants
“Those we hire are not on the plantilla list and these are all for short term projects,” Alikpala said.
He cited for example the consultants for the Ipo Dam watershed. He said the plantilla has no item for watershed experts. In an earlier statement, he pointed out MWSS hired 162 foresters to take care of the Ipo watershed with proper approvals from the Department of Budget and Management.
Another are those needed to review the financial processes within MWSS. He said they can’t rely on employees who were doing the financial reviews before.
He said there are only about less than 30 consultants hired on a contractual basis to undertake projects that existing staff cannot do.
Hiring, he enumerated, is done for:
a. the need to get a third eye objective point of view to assess the integrity of financial systems through a Financial Audit
b. the need to take on additional work because of accelerated new projects like Watershed Management
c. the need to immediately identify the top priorities and directions for Water Security and to help mobilize the organization towards these
d. the need to review the organization to support the Water Security Legacy
e. the need to review the Rate Rebasing Process, Financial model and long standing issue that have not been addressed
On allegations about consultant compensations made retroactive to March 2011, Alikpala said consultants were paid for actual services rendered, but were paid after several months due to processing delays.
“We haven’t hired any technical assistant. Let me emphasize that what we have now is a far cry from the previous board, wherein each member has technical assistants who could be the official’s driver or brother or any family member. Para maswelduhan lang.”
On eight meetings a day
Disputing the allegations that they hold eight meetings a day, once a week, four times a month, Alikpala said the average meeting of the board happens only twice a month, plus one committee meeting if necessary.
He said what the disgruntled employees were referring to was what happened one time in April this year but it’s not even four meetings.
“There were three meetings in one day but for each meeting, there’s a different committee and naturally, different set of members,” he said.
“But after that, there have been no such thing as four, three or two meetings of the same people in one day. That’s ridiculous.”
Alikpala said they strictly follow Executive Order 24 of President Benigno Aquino III, which sets what’s allowed what a board member can earn in one year.
He explained “EO24 sets an annual ceiling of P576,000 total compensation for all board of trustees and committee meetings. Thus, Board members may meet any number of times but will never receive more than the prescribed ceiling. The Board is willing to open its books to allow anyone to check if any Board member has exceeded the maximum.”
“So kahit mag-meeting nang mag meeting kung na reach mo na yung ceiling, wala ka nang matatanggap (So even if you continue attending meetings, if you reach the salary ceiling, you won’t get anything).”
He volunteered what he’s receiving is P33,000 a month. “That’s even less than what a driver receives, which is P36,000,” he said.
He said because of the reforms of the Aquino administration, like the slashing of bonuses of employees and officials, the MWSS are able to fix the backlog in paying benefits of around 1,000 retirees.
He said they were those who’ve been waiting for two decades and some of them have died already.
“When we got rid of the bonuses in 2010, we were able to pay the retirees by end of 2011. Now, there are only 10 recipients left and it’s only the processing of papers that delays their retirement pay.”
His parting message to disgruntled employees: “I just want to say that we are in government not to get wealthy but to serve the public and make sacrifices. Be part of the reforms being made.”
For more, listen to the attached audio clip from Radyo Inquirer 990 AM.