By MELVIN GASCON
Special to abs-cbnNEWS.com
BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya -The Commission on Audit has criticized the provincial government over the alleged illegal granting of honoraria and incentives to its officials which has taken some P4.6 million in funds from the coffers for the past two years.
In its 2006 audit report, the COA noted that provincial officials continued to illegally award themselves monthly allowances and other benefits despite an earlier warning to stop the practice.
Records revealed that officials and employees who comprised the province's bids and awards committee (BAC), local finance committee (LFC) and the provincial school board (PSB) have been unlawfully receiving additional monthly honorarium and "year-end performance incentives" since 2005.
Virgilio Mapalad, COA team leader, said the provincial government should stop the payments and compel the recipients to refund the amounts they have received, reiterating its recommendation in the 2005 audit report.
The questionable payments were issued notices of disallowance but these were apparently ignored and the illegal practice continued, the report said.
In 2006, the unauthorized payments of honoraria reached P2.2 million, while 2.4 million was spent for the same purpose in the preceding year.
The 2005 report was the basis of board member Patricio Dumlao Jr. in filing graft charges against 40 officials and employees who received P10,000 and P5,000 as "extra bonus". The case remains pending before the Office of the Ombudsman, sources said.
Audit documents showed that illegally-paid honoraria and bonuses were given to practically the same group of officials who manage the finances of the provincial government.
Three chiefs of offices, provincial treasurer Perfecto Martinez Jr., then-provincial administrator Epifanio Galima Jr. and personnel officer Maria Carla Torralba thrice received their honoraria and yearend bonuses as members of the LFC, BAC and PSB.
This is aside from their salaries and the P30,000 "cash gift" that was given to all provincial employees in December 2006.
Eight other officials, mostly chiefs of offices, twice received additional honoraria and incentives for their membership in two bodies, likewise aside from their regular pay and the P30,000 bonus.
Mapalad said the granting of fixed monthly honoraria to BAC and its technical working group (TWG), amounting to P1.3 million, was in violation of a budget circular that allows such grant only for every successful transaction completed by the BAC through competitive bidding.
In 2006, LFC members likewise illegally received a total of P337,800 in honoraria and bonuses, which was based on a "misplaced" application of a circular from the Department of Budget and Management, the COA said.
The payment of honoraria under this order, it was learned, is allowed only as compensation for a special project which required tasks beyond the employees' regular functions, and should be undertaken has a time frame of at least a month.
The granting of additional compensation to the 10-member PSB and its TWG, totaling P450,000 was likewise made "without legal basis", the report added.
Under the Local Government Code, officers and members of local school boards "shall perform their duties as such without compensation or remuneration".
According to the report, the amount spent for the PSB's unauthorized honorarium was illegally drawn from the special education fund (SEF) which is mainly intended for the construction, repair and upkeep of public schools, printing of textbooks or payment of teachers' salaries.
But provincial treasurer Martinez, also LFC chair, said the provincial government still has an option to respond to the COA report and justify the payments questioned therein.
"[Giving of honoraria] has been the practice even in the past administrations. I am surprised why it is only now that the COA came up with these observations," he said.
Martinez said the COA never issued any notice of disallowance for the payment of honoraria in 2005.