28 September 2014

COA: ERC Failed To Protect Consumers

ERC Zenaida Ducut
The Commission on Audit (COA) has finally ruled and they found the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) wanting.

Chaired by former Pampanga Rep. Zenaida Ducut, ERC was found to have failed miserably in protecting the very people that pay their wages, the consumers. Worse, COA ruled that the energy body lavished its officers with MacBooks and iPads and deployed government vehicles without “For Official Use Only” markings.

COA report said that the ERC went soft on power distributors in checking whether they were cheating consumers with the use of faulty electric meters and how it was unable to justify the provision of multiple laptops and tablets to its officers last year.

Ducut has refused to heed calls for her resignation even after she was charged along with scores of former and current government officials in the P10-billion pork barrel scam for allegedly taking a 5-percent commission for every pork barrel project she brought to accused pork plunderer Janet Lim-Napoles.

It was earlier reported that lawmakers have asked for Ducut’s head for approving Manila Electric Co.’s huge rate increase of PhP 4.15 per kilowatt-hour in December 2013 amid the Department of Energy's (DOE’s) suspicion of collusion among power generators to make a killing from the month-long shutdown of the Malampaya gas pipeline.

As expected, ERC tried to downplay the report and defended itself by saying that “meter-checking was actually an initiative of the ERC, but the actual physical checking of each meter should be done by electric cooperatives.”

"It will be difficult isa-isahin, kaya statistical testing na lang by lots," ERC executive director Francis Juan said.

In its 2013 ERC annual audit report released on Aug. 29, the COA said the ERC had failed to throw the book at 125 of 139 distribution utilities (DUs) in the country that failed to comply with the mandatory testing of their electric meters.

If this is the case with ERC, why are the consumers and the government keeping the Commission? Why not scrap the government body and deal directly with the electric cooperatives in making sure that ALL electric meters are working, and not just a few.

The audit agency also branded as “excessive and unnecessary expenditures” the grant of the latest laptops and tablets to 27 ERC officers and employees and cell phones (worth PhP 8,500 each) to five ERC drivers.

The COA has ordered the ERC officials to just keep one gadget and return all laptops or tablets while the drivers were asked to pay for the mobile phones or return them.

“Henceforth, [the ERC should] determine the real need before purchasing and issuing additional computers or other IT equipment, and observe prudence in the disbursement of government funds,” it said.

Among the top ERC officers who each received roughly PhP 250,000 worth of high-tech freebies from 2009 to 2013 were:
  • Executive Director Francis Saturnino C. Juan (Lenovo ThinkPad, Apple MacBook Air 2 and iPad from 2010 to 2012)
  • Director Isabel Joseph P. Tomas II(MacBook Pro, Lenovo ThinkPad and iPad from 2009 to 2011)
  • Director Noel J. Salvanera (MacBook, HP EliteBook and iPad 64GB from 2009 to 2011)
  • Director Corazon C. Gines (Samsung laptop, MacBook Air, HP EliteBook and iPad from 2009 to 2012)
  • Director Floresinda Digal (Samsung laptop, MacBook Air, HP laptop, Lenovo laptop and two iPads from 2008 to 2014)
Juan justified the provision of tablets and laptops to several key officers, saying these gadgets are needed for their job. He added that equipment issued to others are also shared with other staff and are used for work.

Does ERC really believe that anybody with rational mind will believe this shameful excuse? Did they really think, for an instance, that the public will take it ‘hook, line and sinker’ when they say that a Samsung laptop issued to Director Gines will be shared with everyone in her department? How in the world can Dir. Gines, for example, use a Samsung laptop, a MacBook Air and an HP EliteBook at the same time at work?

The audit agency also noted that ERC officials were using unmarked government vehicles and were unable to submit vouchers to support fuel purchases of PhP 1.23 million in 2013.

“All of the 22 ERC vehicles were not marked ‘For Official Use Only’ nor the name of the agency written on the sides of the motor vehicles. Payment of gasoline expenses was not supported with approved requisition and issue voucher (RIV) or its equivalent,” the COA said.

Juan, however, justified the use of vehicles without markings as essential to the job of personnel especially those who are assigned to monitor distribution utilities.

"’Di naman ibig sabihin na kung walang ‘official use,’ nagagamit sa ‘di official na gawain," said Juan.

If this is the best excuse that ERC can come up with, then the country is really in big trouble. There is no other way to explain their failure to justify their alleged faults based on the COA ruling, but to sheer incompetence.

Can anybody tell me what will happen or what is the loss to the public if tomorrow ERC is no longer in existence? I think, nada.