EXPLAINER: Consultants of Cebu City councilors unpaid for 6 months. City accountant opposes payment, sees violation of law, COA procedure. Something wrong with process, says Kons Archival.

CEBU. Cebu City Councilors Joy Pesquera and Noel Wenceslao (left photo) and the City Council in session. (Photos from Cebu City PIO)
CEBU. Cebu City Councilors Joy Pesquera and Noel Wenceslao (left photo) and the City Council in session. (Photos from Cebu City PIO)

WHAT HAPPENED. THE Cebu City Council on Wednesday (February 1, 2023) summoned to an executive session next week representatives from the city's bids and awards committee (BAC), human resources department (HRD), and budget and accounting offices to explain, and find ways to end, delays in the payment of city councilors' consultants.

The consultants, mostly lawyers, haven't been paid since they started working last year (2022), from June 30 until November 30. There must be 18 consultants -- at P32,000 per month, one for each councilor -- but if it also affects casuals and job-order employees of City Hall. The problem is much bigger in scale. As of September 30, 2022, there were 5,696 J.O.s/casuals, or 77 percent, out of a total 7,363 personnel.

Minority Floor Leader Nestor Archival said many other employees also suffer. As to the consultants' fate, Councilor Mary Ann de los Santos (BOPK) said, "We don't look good here."

An executive session, set for next Wednesday, February 8, was decided to tackle the issue. Majority Floor Leader Jocelyn Pesquera also moved for the return of the consultants' contracts to the city accountant to expedite payment.

MARGOT'S ACCUSATION. There must be something wrong with the process, Archival said. There seems to be a problem of bureaucracy which the administration's critics say have reinforced City Hall's "general reputation for inefficiency."

In the 2022 election, BOPK candidate for mayor Margot Osmeña used as major campaign line the call for a "cleanup and restoration of order at the very seat of government." She didn't win but her accusation remains unresolved.

NOT ENTIRELY CLUELESS. The councilors must not be entirely clueless about the reasons for delay in the payment of consultants. The councilors affected by the delay were informed by the city's pre-auditor, Marites Miao, and the acting city accountant Giovanni Delgado.

One such letter of objection -- dated January 24, 2023 and brought to the attention of the City Council last February 1 -- cited the case of Jose Mari Godinez, consultant to Councilor Renato Osmeña Jr. Atty. Godinez claimed the salary of P160,000 for the period from July 1, 2022 to November 30, 2022. The contract of service was executed on November 11, the notice of award issued on September 21 and the notice to proceed on November 16, all in 2022.

City Accountant Delgado registered his objection, citing Republic Act 9184, noting that the services were rendered prior to the execution of the service contract.

Dated last December 29, 2022, but also brought to the Sanggunian's attention last February 1, 2023, a similar letter raised the same objection. Accountant Miao rejected the claim of P160,000 back salary for Atty. Renelda Chanco, consultant to Councilor Joel Garganera, also for the period from July 1, 2022 to November 30, 2022. And with the same alleged violation of the procedure provided by law: rendering service before the execution of the contract.

STILL BEING DONE. The practice seems to continue. Current examples:

[] Councilor Pastor Alcover Jr.'s resolution seeking approval of a contract to be signed by the mayor, appointing as consultant Atty. Shana Alexandria Perez, for the period from January 1, 2023 to June 30, 2023, at P32,000 per month.

[] Councilor Rey Gealon proposing the same contract of consultancy for Atty. Kyle Joseph Alo, for the same six-month period and salary.

Both resolutions were submitted to the Sanggunian only last Wednesday and the consultants have already been serving at City Hall.

'NOBLE BUT...' The practice of preempting the contract is being done obviously with the knowledge of the consultants and the councilors. They know the law and procedure require the contract of service to be executed before they start the service.

And yet the regulation is violated, contributing to the causes of delay and, this time, rejection. Councilor Pesquera told her colleagues she was a consultant before and she signed a commitment to refund the money if the payment would be disallowed by Commission on Audit. But apparently, the office of the city accountant does not go along with promissory notes anymore.

The councilor's and consultant's reason for setting aside the rule: There's a lot of work in the office. The city accountant's take: "A noble intention to render assistance and service" but payment under such condition "can be considered an irregular disbursement" under the COA circular.


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