COA questions NHA-R-II Builders settlement accord

CITING discrepancies, the Commission on Audit (COA) has flagged the National Housing Authority’s (NHA) plan to pay P1.12-billion to R-II Builders, Inc. (RBI), the contractor of the defunct Smokey Mountain Development and Reclamation Project (SMRDP).

The COA likewise warned the NHA on the transfer of at least 5 hectares of government land to settle court cases with the RBI.

In an Audit Observation Memorandum addressed to NHA General Manager Marcelino Escalada, Jr. and his team, COA pointed out discrepancies in a court-approved P1.12-billion NHA-RBI compromise agreement.

The COA also mentioned in its report the 2019 NHA briefing paper submitted to Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri in which the agency allegedly admitted that it already overpaid RBI by P301.7-million.

“While records disclose that NHA has not paid to RBI the court approved amount under the Compromise Agreement, the Management (NHA), as of to date, has not submitted to the Auditor the riposte or a copy of the comments, if any, of the OGCC (Office of the Government Corporate Counsel) to the AQM (Audit Query Memorandum) as well as the requested documents. As a consequence, evaluation of the validity of the transactions could not be had,” the COA auditors said.

The COA team, led by auditors Liza dela Cruz and Radito Ching, particularly noted that documents like the November 21, 2018 Compromise Agreement between NHA and RBI relative to SMDRP were not submitted.

This, the auditors said, is “not in consonance with the freedom of information policy that recognizes and confirms the commitment of the Government to full public disclosure, transparency and accountability in public service.”

In 2018, the OGCC advised NHA to rethink a planned amicable settlement with construction firm RBI.

Meanwhile, in a letter to Escalada dated October 16, 2018, chief government corporate counsel Elpidio Vega cautioned NHA about the supposed “variance” between its own computation and the proposed settlement with RBI amounting to P1.12 billion plus five hectares of government property in Vitas, Tondo.

He said earlier computations presented by the housing agency’s accounting department to the NHA board indicate that NHA allegedly “overpaid” RBI by as much as P300 million.

In addition, Vega urged the NHA to defer its mediation with RBI stressing that any possible settlement should involve proper computation of interest as well as proper valuation of the properties to be given as payment to the firm.

“Given the manifest variance in the findings of NHA’s Accounting Department as well as (NHA) Board Resolutions (authorizing settlement), such findings and resolutions have to be harmonized and justified for the benefit of both the NHA and its Board,” Vega said.