June 21, 2024

The Commission on Audit advised the Baguio Water District Board of Directors (BOD) to stop passing resolutions granting illegal bonuses and allowances to the utility’s officials and employees.

This came following COA’s disallowance of the P29,935,558.19 granted to BWD officials and employees representing their bonuses and allowances for 2021.

In the 2021 audit findings published in the COA website, state auditors have advised the BWD BOD to stop passing resolutions granting bonuses and allowances without legal basis and those that are contrary to laws, rules, and regulations.

The audit team said BWD continued to grant the benefits that were disallowed in the past, bringing the accumulated amount to P390,731,189.66 covering 1999 to 2021.

Among other things, the disallowed amounts covering various years included additional yearend cash gifts granted to casual and regular employees; rice subsidy; birthday and monthly grocery benefits; living assistance granted to employees; fuel and gasoline benefits; and cash gifts, yearend incentives, centennial bonus, financial assistance, cellphones, and cellphone cards granted to the BODs.

The COA said despite the regular issuance of notices of disallowance on the benefits and allowances for violation of rules or lack of legal basis, BWD continued to grant the questioned benefits every year.

“This manifests patent disregard of laws, rules, and regulations, thus negating claim of good faith,” the COA said.

“The continued grant, payment, and receipt of the benefits that were subject to notices of disallowance and COA decisions exhibit intent to violate laws and rules or disregard of established rules, which partakes of grave misconduct.”

The Courier’s efforts to get the side of BWD proved futile; but the same COA report cited the BWD’s legal bases for the grant of the bonuses and allowances.

“The BWD officials and employees, in their appeals maintained, among other things, that the legal basis for the grant of the various benefits and allowances are the board resolutions because Presidential Decree 198 provided the power to the BOD to determine the grant of incentives and to fix the salaries and benefits of employees,” the COA said.

But the COA added the audit team has been pointing out that Republic Act 6758 has standardized the salary rates of government personnel and consolidated allowances to avoid multiple allowances and other incentive packages.

“Compensations of government employees are governed by law and can never be anchored on acts of liberality or donations, unilaterally determined by a specific agency,” the report stated.

It also presented a summary of the disallowances that BWD appealed to higher authorities, some of which were decided with finality.

One of the COA disallowances upheld by the Supreme Court was the grant of centennial bonus to BWD officials and employees amounting to P1,233,860.5. The bonus was given in celebration of Baguio City’s centennial anniversary in 2009.

Aside from asking the BOD to stop issuing resolutions granting benefits that are considered illegal or irregular expenditures, the COA also recommended that the liable persons settle the disallowed amounts and recommended the filing of charges against those responsible for the grant and disbursement of the questioned benefits. – Jane B. Cadalig