COA hits ‘hiring binge’ in Bulacan

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The local government of Bulacan, the country’s most populous province next to Cavite, went on a hiring binge over the last four years, which has bloated its payroll for personnel services by more than three-folds.

The Commission on Audit (COA) has described the hiring as “unnecessary” specifically that of 72 consultants—from high school graduates to lawyers to bishops and priests—solely based on the “trust and confidence” of Gov. Wilhelmino Sy-Alvarado (who ran unopposed in the last elections) and other local government officials.

In a 2012 audit released last week, the COA said Bulacan provincial employees hired as casuals, job orders, contractual and consultants surged by 79 percent to 1,608 last year from 900 in 2009. In the same period, salaries for these contractual employees jumped 226 percent to P196.3 million in 2012 from P73.792 in 2009.

“The necessity for the services was not carefully considered and evaluated and the proper procedures were not adopted in engaging the services of some consultants whose functions were not highly technical in nature and can be performed by the regular employees of the provincial government of Bulacan,” the COA said in its report.

The 2012 COA circular updated its spending guidelines, including what it considered as unnecessary expenditures or “expenses which are not essential or those that can be dispensed with without loss or damage to property.”

Also, government institutions are mandated to hire consultants based on their proven expertise, experience and capability and that they should only be hired if regular staffers could not provide the same services. The COA evaluated a sample of 40 consultants and found that none of them has any expertise that could not be provided by regular staffers.

In its audit, the COA noted that the governor and vice governor have 72 consultants between them with a monthly salary of P10,000 to P35,000.

“Interviews showed that the consultants were hired and appointed based on ‘trust and confidence.’ Their employment did not pass through the scrutiny of the provincial personnel selection board,” said COA.

“Consequently, we found no basis in assessing their capabilities and expertise on the services they were contracted for,” the COA said.

The COA report said bishops or priests were either tapped as consultants or granted monthly honoraria ranging from P9,000 to P22,500 which not only went against the constitutional provision on the separation of Church and state but also against the use of local funds for private purposes.

Six of the consultants were either high school graduates or college dropouts who the COA reckoned were unqualified to give advice on office matters, external affairs, and infrastructure projects. The COA said the Bulacan government hired private lawyers which was not allowed by law.

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