N. Vizcaya ‘cement scam’ traced to ’07 polls
BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya–Findings of the Commission on Audit has exposed that the allegedly illegal purchases made by the provincial government involving P23 million-worth of bags of cement were released in the run-up to the May 2007 local elections.
The 2007 audit report listed a total of 26 purchases by the province of bags of cement totalling P19.5 million from the period January 15 to April 17, 2007, or less than a month before the May 14, 2007 polls.
The amount covers about 84 percent of the P23.2 million, which the COA has declared as anomalous because the transactions were not subjected to a public bidding as required by Republic Act 9184 (Government Procurement Reform Act of 2003).
The COA said the purchase by the of the province of the bags of cement through direct contracting with a sole supplier, Norma’s General Merchandise, was not allowed by law.
“(The lack of bidding) was not in conformity with RA 9184, which resulted in the failure of (the provincial government) in attaining a more transparent system of procurement,” the report said.
The COA report has bolstered suspicion among residents here that donations of bags of cement, and the road concreting projects during the election period, were used to gain the support of voters for Gov. Luisa Cuaresma, who then ran and won in her re-election bid.
Section 104 of the Omnibus Election Code prohibits any candidate, his or her spouse, relatives or representatives from directly or indirectly making any donation in cash or in kind, or undertake or contribute to the construction or repair of roads, bridges, or any structure for public use or for the use of any religious or civic organization, during the election period.
If found guilty, violators may be sentenced to a prison term of one to six years, and will be disqualified to hold any public office.
The COA report showed that the cement, totalling 100,090 bags, were bought supposedly for the construction of six road projects, and were donated to “various barangays and associations”.
Of the 26 purchases, 15 were made within the 90-day election period, while three fell within the 45-day election ban on donations and construction projects.
This writer has sought Cuaresma for comment but she was not in her office, and did not respond to queries on her mobile phone. Her staff said she was in Manila for an official business.
But Manuel Tabora, acting provincial administrator, defended the purchases, saying that these falling during the election season were merely “coincidental”.
“We had to consider the construction season which falls in the months before summer. We had to take advantage of the good weather during this period, not necessarily because it was election time,” he said.
Tabora said the projects and donations were not covered by the election ban because although the fund releases were made during the campaign season, the requests for these were made before the covered election period.
The provincial government adopted direct contracting as a mode of purchase because it was more advantageous, due to the savings it has generated, he added.