SC failed to use P3.9B fund to build halls of justice: COA

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    GOVERNMENT auditors have called out the Supreme Court for poor performance in budget utilization due to its failure to start the construction of 39 out of 48 Halls of Justice for an 81.25 percent backlog even if the government provided the budget it needed totaling P3.95 billion from 2016 to 2019.

    The 2019 audit of the SC released last January 29 revealed five other projects remain incomplete dating back to 2016 equivalent to 10.42 percent. This reduced the High Court’s completion rate at only four out of 48 or a measly 8.33 percent.

    Among the reasons cited in the report were inadequate planning, slow procurement process, lack of coordination with the Department of Public Works and Highways and the local government where the structure is to be built, and lack of technical personnel to tackle the details of the project.

    The audit team noted that from 2016 to 2019 the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) released P3,949,705,088.24 to the SC under the Justice System Infrastructure Program (JUSIP) specifically for the construction of 48 halls of justice with costs ranging from P6 million to P836 million.

    Based on a breakdown provided, P210 million was released in 2016; P912.36 million in 2017; P1.047 billion in 2018; and P1.78 billion in 2019.

    “Review of the contracts and status reports on the construction/repair and completion of HOJs nationwide …disclosed that as at December 31, 2019, out of 48 HOJ infrastructure projects, 39 or 81.25 percent …have not been constructed; five were not yet completed… and only four with a total cost of P28,609,603.30 were completed,” the COA said.

    An audit query was sent to the SC on February 4, 2020 inquiring about the non-implementation and on February 21, 2020, the Office on Halls of Justice (OHJ) cited several problems.

    It disclosed that while fund for the construction was already on hand, there was no lot to build it on since the local government unit that was supposed to host the structure made no lot donation.

    There were also instances where the donated lot involved zoning problems, ownership disputes, conflict with other planned public works like roads, and change in location that necessitated revision of plans and technical requirements.

    In another instance, the SC received an additional allocation of P450 million for six more structures after the legislative bicameral session even if these were not provided for in the original plan.

    The OHJ also reported failed biddings yet no alternative mode of procurement was considered even as mere revisions of the annual procurement plan and purchase requests for P4 million had to go through an evaluation by the Court En Banc.

    “At present, the OHJ is in-charge of the 334 (halls of justice) buildings nationwide. Review of the plantilla of the OHJ revealed the lack of technical personnel since the office has only three engineers, one architect, one building inspector, two engineering assistants, one engineering aide and two draftsmen,” the COA noted.

    In its reaction, the SC said there were instances when “lobbying of legislators, LGUs and project beneficiaries …had to be heeded in order to maintain and ensure a harmonious relationship with the said legislators and LGUs.”

    It likewise cited the need to make adjustments where the adoption of a Judicial Complex was considered in lieu of separate structures in a given location.