WATER WASTE

Former Cagayan ecozone chief faces graft raps for ‘overpriced’ dike

BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya — Cagayan Gov. Manuel Mamba has filed a graft complaint against Jose Mari Ponce, former administrator of the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (Ceza), for the alleged overprice of a P5-billion breakwater project at Port Irene in Santa Ana town.

In a 41-page complaint filed in the Office of the Ombudsman last month, Mamba said Ponce entered into several contracts for the construction of the kilometer-long Port Irene breakwater, even if these were, he noted, “patently disadvantageous” to the government.

Mamba asked Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales to charge Ponce with graft as well as investigate other officials and employees involved in the deals.

The INQUIRER on Monday contacted Ponce for comment but his family said he was out of the country and had yet to receive a copy of the complaint.

In an earlier statement, Ponce said the construction of the breakwater was “above board,” citing the findings of the Commission on Audit (COA).

The Port Irene breakwater project was built in five phases over eight years, with a total funding of P5.07 billion, according to records.

For the first phase, Ceza entered into a design-and-build contract with J. Vitangcol Construction Co. worth P397.3 million on April 20, 2006.

On the same day, Ponce entered into a second contract with the same firm for the “strengthening and reinforcement of blocks” of the breakwater with an additional cost of about P1 million per meter.

“In effect, even without starting the design and construction of the first 250-meter breakwater, Ceza already contracted for its strengthening and reinforcement on the same day,” Mamba said in the complaint.

“Why a separate contract for the strengthening and reinforcement of a structure before it is built is a big puzzle, for this should have been part of the original design,” he said.

Less than a year after the first deal was made, Ceza again entered into another redesign and rehabilitation contract covering the same 250 meters for P1.5 billion or about P6 million per meter.

Mamba said Ceza built the first 250-meter segment, worth P816.1 million, for an average cost of P3.2 million per meter, which is costlier than engineering estimates made by the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA), Cagayan State University (CSU) and a German firm.

Based on similar construction requirements, the PPA estimated that the Port Irene breakwater should have cost P1.07 million per meter while CSU pegged its estimates at P1.3 million per meter. Hyder Engineering Co. of Germany put the cost at P1.1 million.

With no reasons being cited, the contract cost for the remaining 750 meters, which was awarded to Sta. Elena Construction Corp., ballooned to P5.7 million per meter, or almost twice its original cost.

“What [construction] materials could be cramped into one linear meter of breakwater that would cost P5.7 million in taxpayers’ money is a great mystery,” Mamba said in his complaint.

He said the COA admitted in its report that its inspection was limited only to “visible portions” of the breakwater.#

Published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Aug. 2, 2017

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