Saturday July 21, 2018

Seares: Must PB okay money deals twice?

BROADCASTER Bobby Nalzaro in his SunStar column last Sept. 16 asked whether the governor can enter into a contract without a bidding. The Cebu Provincial Board reportedly authorized the governor to enter into a contract “with the winning bidder” on a number of projects “without a proper bidding.” Contracting with the winning bidder even if there is no “proper bidding”?

Quite confusing. Language could be the culprit. Yet the DILG opinion is clear enough: the authority to the governor may be given by the PB before and during bidding, preferably before the notice of award and signing of the contract. No mention that bidding is no longer required.

Legislative approval

What must interest public officials and the public whose money is spent by our elected leaders is the principle laid down by the Supreme Court case of Quisumbing, et al, vs. Garcia, et al, which on Dec. 8, 2008 ruled on the controversy in Cebu. But the said decision refers to the requirement of PB approval, not on the issue of bidding.

And the core question in the said case (GR #175527) is: When must the governor (or mayor) ask for authority or approval from the Provincial Board (or city or town council) on contracts already ppropriated for by the local “sanggunian”?

Commission on Audit found that P102.092 million in project contracts entered into by then governor Gwen Garcia wasn’t supported by PB action. Gwen argued that they were earlier appropriated for by the PB and no further authority was needed from the said body.

Specific vs. generic

The high tribunal’s guideline is plain enough. Check out if the ordinance appropriating money for a project or projects includes the costs and the details of the project. Is it “sufficient” for the chief executive to sign a contract? If it is, then go, no need of another legislative OK.

But if terms in the appropriation ordinance are generic (e.g. “infrastructure projects,” “inter-municipal waterworks,” drainage and flood control,” “roads and bridges,” “improvements on X property”), the SC said “there is an obvious need for a covering contract that requires approval by the Sanggunian.”

(By the way, the SC didn’t resolve the Cebu dispute. The case was thrown back to the Regional Trial Court to determine the facts, using the SC guideline this time.)

Pro and con

A governor or mayor who is at odds with his board or council may take the risk of relying on a generalized authorization and not submit the contract to it.

Yet even if executive and legislative are chummy with one another, it’s more prudent to ask the legislature to ratify the final agreement. That will enforce checks and balance and tap the wisdom of decision-makers in the board or council.

It spreads political credit for the projects, true, but it also covers ones ass in case something goes wrong. The scandal won’t just blow up on the governor’s or mayor’s face; the PB go-ahead may provide defense or reduce liability.