N. Vizcaya’s ‘luxury buses’ draw flak
BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya–Officials and residents here denounced the alleged anomalous purchase by the provincial government of two brand new luxury buses worth P10.2 million, at a time when the country was suffering from severe food crisis and high power rates.
Board member Patricio Dumlao Jr. said the “questionable” purchase of a new 45-seater and a 25-seater Hyundai buses was made without the required public bidding, raising suspicion that this could be another graft-ridden deal entered into by unscrupulous provincial officials.
“This is highly anomalous because the province had to buy from a Korean supplier through direct purchase, when there are many other suppliers in the country that could have provided the same vehicles, maybe at less cost to the government,” Dumlao said.
He expressed dismay that instead of addressing the national concerns of food sufficiency, rising cost of basic commodities and electricity, the province has been more concerned about spending on their luxuries.
Documents obtained by this writer stated that the buses–a 45-seater Hyundai Universe model 2008 worth P6.3 million and a 25-seater Hyundai County model 2008 worth P2.7 million–feature “full basic functions” and are equipped with DVD players with monitor and a refrigerator.
Residents were also irked over what to them was another display of “wanton extravagance” by the provincial government, which has engaged in a spending spree on sports utility vehicles (SUVs) for its officials.
“The provincial government is so desperately trying to collect taxes but at the same time it is wasting taxpayers’ money on less important expenditures,” tricycle driver Armand Asuncion, 46, said, referring to the brewing controversy over quarry taxes between the province and a foreign mining firm.
Bayombong resident Sonia Capistrano, 35, a mother of three, said the province could have used the funds to help pay for the electricity bills in public elementary schools, a burden being passed on to pupils’ parents for years now.
On Wednesday, the provincial board approved a resolution authorizing Gov. Luisa Cuaresma to purchase the luxury buses on direct importation, upon request of the bids and awards committee which earlier declared a “failed bidding”.
Dumlao said it was “ridiculous” that while the BAC was still asking for an authorization for the governor, the buses have been shipped to the country and are ready to be delivered, stored at a shop in Quezon City.
In August 2007, the provincial board earmarked P9 million for the purchase of two air-conditioned buses supposedly for the province’s use during educational tours, seminars and out-of-town trainings and conferences.
But instead of conducting a public bidding, the province’s bids and awards committee (BAC) on April 15, declared a failure of bidding and picked Shin Heung Corp. of Seoul, South Korea as “exclusive dealer”, Dumlao said.
No public bidding, however, was ever initiated, he added.
“If there was an honest-to-goodness publication of the public bidding, a lot of dealers would have come to tender their bids. I wonder how Shin Heung came out of nowhere from Korea and offered to be a dealer,” he said.
Confronted during the board’s session on Wednesday, Tomas Garra, BAC chair, admitted he did not know the circumstances on how Shin Heung knew of Nueva Vizcaya’s need for two buses.
“They must have known through their contacts; afterwhich, they sent a letter to the governor. What I know is that one time I was invited to a meeting at the capitol, when I arrived at the venue, they (Shin Heung officials) were already there,” he said.
Dumlao expressed concern how anomalous deals in the province have become detrimental to the government, citing a P15-million bulldozer that was bought last year which broke down after only a few months’ use.
But because the buses are considered “luxury”, Dumlao said, the province cannot avail of tax exemption from importation that is granted by the local government code.
Garra said the provincial board may need to allocate P1.2 million more to cover the customs duties that must be paid by the province for the imported buses, bringing the total allocation to 10.2 million.