COA pushes raps vs PCOO execs over Asean hosting deals
The Commission on Audit (COA) has recommended the filing of graft charges against officials of the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) and their cohorts in connection with the P38.8 million worth of questionable contracts for the country’s hosting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) events last year.
The 2017 COA report noted that the PCOO’s expenses for goods, equipment and vehicle rentals for the Asean events were fraught with irregularities.
The PCOO said its legal department was now investigating some of its personnel involved in the alleged irregularities and that an investigation report was “forthcoming.”
The investigation, which covers PCOO personnel and the agency’s suppliers, began in April, PCOO Undersecretary for Legal Affairs Marvin Gatpayat said. The names of those involved would be announced “at the proper time” to avoid any trial by publicity, Gatpayat added.
Records showed that the PCOO received funds totaling P482.2 million in 2016 and P1.7 billion in 2017, as operating expenses for the 2017 Asean Summit.
The agency served as chair of the Committee on Media Affairs and Strategic Communications of the Asean National Organizing Council, which managed and supervised all activities of major Asean meetings in the host country.
The COA, however, noted anomalies in transactions amounting to P38.8 million, out of the P219.2 million Asean funds it audited in 2017.
The COA noted that PCOO split contracts worth P27.5 million for the purchase of Asean freebies, and P7.3 million for van rentals, to comply with the P1-million threshold for “shopping,” an alternative mode of government purchase that allows agencies to skip the required public bidding.
The PCOO bought P14.6 million worth of delicacy bags, handmade soaps, medical kits, umbrellas, shirts and Asean jackets from four suppliers, but split the deals into 19 purchase orders to meet the P1-million ceiling for government purchases made without public bidding.
“It was observed that the procurement of delicacy bag and handmade soap were all dated Nov. 3, 2017 under various POs (purchase orders) and under various suppliers. Likewise, the POs for medical kits were all dated Nov. 14, 2017 under various suppliers,” the COA report noted.
Contracts for the printing of Asean information materials worth P8.5 million were also split into 12 purchase orders, while the purchase of Wi-Fi internet access, worth P4.4 million, was split into seven transactions.
Public officers and private individuals, who split contracts that exceed purchase limits, with the clear intent of avoiding competitive bidding or circumventing the limits of procurement, are liable for graft, the COA said, citing Republic Act No. 9184, or the Procurement Act.
PCOO officials also awarded government contracts to suppliers who, the COA learned, did not submit the lowest price quotations.
The agency failed as well to meet the required posting period for the transactions on the Philippine Government Electronic Procurement System website.
The PCOO also spent P4 million for the rental of laptops, desktop computers and digital cameras that, the COA said, cost more than the purchase price of the equipment, resulting in a loss of about P965,000 in government funds.
In a statement, the PCOO said it respected the COA’s findings and its mandate to “ensure the proper utilization of public funds among government offices.”
The agency said it received reports on “some indiscretions in the conduct of procurement in the Asean” as early as the third week of January this year, which resulted in the reconstitution of the PCOO bids and awards committee on Feb. 12.
“(R)est assured we are going to investigate it. We will find out if indeed there were irregularities, if indeed there were violations. We will identify who these people are, and will make sure that this will not happen anymore,” Gatpayat said.
The PCOO said it was willing to file charges if their investigation resulted in gathering evidence for the filing of charges.
Gatpayat said they had responded to the COA report, answering its allegations point by point.
“The investigation will be made public,” the PCOO official said.
The COA, Gatpayat said, has the option to have the matter investigated by the Office of the Ombudsman but “definitely, we will conduct our investigation and penalize people who violated any government laws,” he said.
In May, PCOO Undersecretary Noel George Puyat resigned from his post, even as he denied that P647 million in funds for an Asean information caravan was unaccounted for.
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