Probe On World Bank Fund Anomaly Involving Philippine Supreme Court Sought

MANILA — The two representatives of Bayan Muna party are calling for investigations into the World Bank fund anomaly involving the Supreme Court.

Reps. Teddy Casiño and Neri Colmenares have filed House Resolution 2049 to probe the alleged anomaly, and call on the Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability to conduct an inquiry on the irregularities involving the SC’s Judicial Reform Support Project (JRSP) funded by the World Bank.

According to an official briefing paper released by Malacañang on the JRSP issue, the JRSP aims to make the judicial system accessible in order to foster public trust and confidence. It supposedly aims to improve case adjudication and access to justice; enhance institutional integrity; strengthen institutional capacity; and assist in strengthening support for the reform process.

The project, which the WB partly funded with $21.9 million (or about P931 million), began implementation on October 2, 2003. The loan should have lasted up to December 31, 2009 but it was extended by 18 months to June 30, 2011 and then for another 12 months to June 30, 2012.

Recent developments connected to the impeachment process against SC chief justice Renato Corona have brought the issue to the fore, and those calling for Corona’s removal from office said the implementation of the project is tainted with corruption.

“The odd thing here is that since Corona became the Chief Justice, the WB reported that progress in attaining the project development objective and implementation have been rated ‘Unsatisfactory’ by the WB,” Casiño said. He also said disbursements as of November 30, 2011 stand at $16.3 or 76 percent of the revised loan amount of $21.4 million,” he added.

“We definitely have to get to the bottom of this considering that the JRSP funds may be one of the sources of ill gotten wealth not only of Justice Corona, as mentioned in the impeachment complaint, but of other Supreme Court officials as well,” the lawmaker said. “What we want here is for the judiciary to truly be cleansed and this is part of that effort.

WB complains against SC’s unsatisfactory implementation

Reports have come out that the WB released an aide memoire dated December 28, 2011 stating that the implementation of JRSP with the High Court has been “rated unsatisfactory” since Corona assumed the post in 2010.

The Commission on Audit also reported that Property and Plant Expenses (PPE) balances had a P40.89-million ($950 thousand) discrepancy between the actual inventory and the SC’s accounting records.

In the meantime, a fiduciary review through interviews with justices and field visits to courts was conducted by a WB task team on Oct. 24 to Nov. 11, 2011.

“The review discloses that the fiduciary environment pertaining to JRSP implementation has so deteriorated that the task team now rates the JRSP as a ‘high risk’ and ‘unsatisfactory’ on project management, project procurement and financial management dimensions, and observes that project financial statements can no longer be relied upon,” the WB memo stated.

It was also reported that the WB team found “inaccurate” or “ incomplete” information on the project’s financial report. There was also a “diminished existing internal check-and-balance mechanism.”

Among the supposed irregularities mentioned in the WB’s statement were the purchase of information technology equipment outside the procurement plan and the borrowing of loan funds for the justices’ foreign travels which was paid to a certain travel agency owned by lawyer Estelito Mendoza.

It will be recalled that it was Mendoza who wrote to the SC for the reconsideration of a case involving Philippine Airlines (PAL) and the Flight Attendants and Stewards Association of the Philippines (FASAP). Mendoza’s letter was the basis of the SC in recalling a decision favoring the flight attendants. It is now among the cases cited in the impeachment complaint against Corona.

Out of the 133 purchases of the SC that the WB reviewed at random, 70 items, totaling $199,000.00, were declared ineligible by the institution. The 70 purchases include payment for meals, accommodations, airfare and allowances for justices, conference registrations, equipment, and goodwill games. Some 16 of these ineligible transactions were attributed to Court Administrator Midas Marquez and his office. Because of all these ineligible purchases or use of the project fund, the WB said that it wants $199,000.00 refunded.

In the meantime, the media has also scrutinized SC spokesperson Jose Midas Marquez’s declarations in relation to the WB’s report. The official has said that the internal auditing mechanism was “diminished” when Corona appointed one man as court administrator, head of the Public Information Office and chair of the Bids and Awards Committee.

The report read, “this senior official, due to the combination of his appointments and functions, was the requestor of the services, the approver of the terms of reference, the end-user of the services provided by the firm, the authorizer of contract extensions, and the authorizer of payments to the firm.”

The situation was said to have “presented a conflict of interest and eliminated internal checks and balances applicable to the procurement and disbursement functions.”

Marquez, who also acts as the Public Information Officer and the Chairman of Bids and Awards Committee (BAC), served as the requestor, approver, user of goods and services, and authorizer of contract extensions and payments to the firm, is also said to have committed violations of the Procurement Law and basic principles of good governance.

Corruption inside the SC

Bayan Muna’s Colmenares who is also a lawyer and part of the prosecution team handling the impeachment case against Corona in the Senate said that in view of the ongoing impeachment proceedings, Congress should continue to investigate the JRSP program with the intention of exposing the workings inside the SC and the probable existence of corruption.

“It’s the responsibility of the legislature to ensure the checks and balances between the different branches of government. More specifically, it is the responsibility of the House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability to investigate malfeasance, misfeasance and nonfeasance in office committed by officers and employees of the government,” Colmenares said. (Bulatlat.com)

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