CAGAYAN de Oro City Councilor Teodulfo Lao Jr. on Monday, March 12, said he welcomes the possibility of working with Rachel Beja, the former general manager of the Cagayan de Oro City Water District (COWD) who was fired for supposedly disrespecting the utility's board of directors.
Lao said Beja could be instrumental in their ongoing legal efforts to examine the contract between the COWD and Metro Pacific Water Investments Corporation, which is now under investigation by the Philippine Competition Commission (PCC).
"We will very much welcome her if she cooperates with us," Lao said.
Lao, the chairman of the city council's committee on water utility, said he and Beja share the same question on the “legality” of the contract.
Beja, in an interview, related that in February 2017, she asked the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel (OGCC) to review some provisions of the contract between MetroPac and COWD.
MetroPac had three options – construction of a new treatment plant, purchase of bulk water from an existing water treatment plant, and outright purchase of an existing water plant.
Lao said these options were also raised and discussed during their meeting with PCC executives last February 21.
"We could make her a witness of this disadvantageous deal that the COWD entered into. Our fight is for the people. Imagine, we used to buy P10.45 per cubic meter from Rio Verde and with the new supplier, we are buying water from them starting at P16. It's very disadvantageous to the people," Lao said.
He said he suspects there were “bigger reasons” behind the relief of Beja.
Beja earned the ire of the board of directors when she sought for a review of the contract between the utility and MetroPac without their knowledge.
Beja was also scored for deciding to hold a management planning conference in Cebu City and informing the BOD only after air tickets have been purchased as well as for holding a thanksgiving party without informing the board.
The board said being discourteous was becoming Beja's habit.
COWD board chairman Eduardo Montalvan, meanwhile, said the reasons for Beja’s termination were just “incidental.”
"The reason why we terminated her was because we lost our trust and confidence in her, even though we are not involved in the operations side of the water district, we need information for our policy-making," Montalvan said.
"She had apologized to us with what she did at the OGCC, but she did it again last December when she held a management meeting in Cebu City when in fact it is now a policy to stop holding meetings outside of Cagayan de Oro, and she did it again after she hosted a party without informing us about it," he added.
"We were not informed of her move at the OGCC. We were shocked when she brought the matter there when in fact it was already discussed and settled. Why didn't she informed our lawyers instead of going to the OGCC?" Montavan said.
Lao, for his part, criticized the board of directors' move against Beja.
"If anyone should be fired or terminated, it should be the board of directors who are incompetent, who are not experts on water management or of the system," Lao said.
For Lao, the board's reasons to fire Beja were not enough basis and were ‘too personal”.
Published in the SunStar Cagayan de Oro newspaper on March 13, 2018.