P5.1-M cash advance made on Rama’s order

03/30/2011 -This is how City Treasurer Ofelia Oliva explained the P5.1-million cash advance for the Christmas street lighting project of the Cebu City Government that became the subject of scrutiny.

Oliva told members of the City Council in an executive session yesterday that the City Treasurer’s Office (CTO), which she heads, was just following the orders of City Mayor Michael Rama.

“We were told to do our job. As a sense of assuming our responsibility and commitment to public service, we did want he wanted,” said Oliva.

The CTO made the transaction with the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) Plaza Branch, in which the P5.1 million check that did not contain the city accountant’s advice was encashed.

No shortcuts

Oliva vowed to never make a shortcut of the process again but stressed that there was nothing illegal about the cash advance.

Department heads at City Hall and representatives from LBP were called to the executive meeting.

Vice Mayor Joy Augustus Young said even if Oliva did not say she was “pressured” by the mayor, the cash advance was made on his orders.

“Nanawag na si mayor: Asa na ang lights? Sa ato pa, na-pressure siya (Oliva). (The mayor may have called asking about the lights. So she was under pressure). We have to wield our power responsibly, we have to think where this would lead,” said Young.

Rama did not comment on whether he pressured Oliva. But he said the most important thing is that a lesson is learned and that, as much as possible, it should not happen again.

Justifiable

If it will, the mayor said, the move should be justified.

But Young pointed out that Christmas lights do not make for a justifiable reason.

“It was not for salaries, not because of a disaster. It was because of Christmas lights; it's not that urgent. No one will die, so what's the difference between one more week that the City will not be decorated?” asked Young.

Last December, City Hall tasked its departments to decorate street center islands. The CTO reportedly made the cash advance for the purpose.

But as deliberations on the P5.1-million cash advance continue, department heads no longer want to be involved in decorating the streets again.

Decorations

The project meant City Hall employees had to leave their jobs to decorate the streets.

Department heads, said Young, were unanimous in saying they want the Parks and Playgrounds committee to handle Christmas street decorations.

Young also wants bara-ngays to take on the task.

LBP, on the other hand, admitted it has made accommodations with City Hall as it is one of the big government clients.

“We do accommodate encashments on a case-to-case basis, especially that Cebu City is one of our top government accounts. We did some accommodations before but the accountant's advice was submitted immediately. This (encashment without the accountant's advice) happened only now,” said LBP Plaza Branch manager Dexter Campos Ruiz.

Checks

City Accountant Arlene Rentuza confirmed there were checks sent to LBP to be encashed initially without her advice. But on those occasions, pertinent documents were in order so she was immediately able to send her advice.

In the case of the P5.1- million cash advance, Rentuza had to send the documents to pre-audit with the Commission on Audit (COA) because the check and the voucher were not attached when these were forwarded to her.

Young said the incident should be a warning so that others will not follow the fate of acting city assessor Eustaquio Cesa, former city administrator Alan Gaviola and the late city accountant Edna Jaca, who were found guilty of approving the unliquidated cash advance of former pay officer Rosalina Badana worth P18.5 million.

Young said it was not their fault but their signatures were found on the documents.

The vice mayor felt sorry for CTO executive secretary Julieta Mariquita, who is the accountable officer.

Oliva said Mariquita was the only one in CTO without a cash advance, so the P5.1
million was made under her name.

“In our desire to help expedite a valid, proper and legal transaction, we didn't know we (CTO) would end up this way. I called a staff meeting to craft safety measures and mechanics so this won't happen again,” said Oliva.

When asked if the council would craft a resolution to correct the problem, Young said: “There is no legislation for common sense.” (Sun Star)

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