COA flags OVP for hiring private lawyers

The Commission on Audit (COA) flagged the Office of the Vice President (OVP) after the latter engaged the services of a private lawyer.

Seals of COA, OVP

In an audit report released on Friday, July 15, the COA said that the OVP hired a private lawyer without the “written conformity and acquiescence” of both the Office of the Solicitor General of the Philippines and the COA.

As per the audit summary, this act was a violation of COA rules and regulations hence why the state auditors flagged expenditures made in hiring private legal consultants as irregular and unnecessary.

State auditors–in their review of the contract of services used by the OVP–found that the private lawyer was hired to serve as an “executive consultant for legal affairs,” to provide the legal assistance and guidance to the staff of the OVP, to “assist in the transitory housing project of the OVP in Marawi City, and to “provide technical guidance in the implementation of the Data Privacy Act".

Lawyers were hired also to perform the following services for the OVP: consultant for partnership building and policy advocacy for rural development (with a monthly rate of P76,907); executive consultant for strategic communications (P161,231 monthly); and regulatory compliance consultant (P161,231 monthly).

COA Circular No. 86-255 mandates that private legal services paid for by public funds “without the prior written conformity and acquiescence of the OSG or the Government Corporate Counsel, as the case may be, as well as the written concurrence of the COA” would be disallowed in the audit of the pertinent government agency, and would be held liable to involved officials.

The COA also wrote that it was a violation of OSG and COA rules despite an OSG memorandum dated Dec. 15, 2015.

“In the hiring of private lawyers to act as technical consultants for the government or client agency concerned, the requisite prior written conformity and acquiescence of the Solicitor General need not be obtained,” Section 3 of the OSG memo said.

“Provided, finally, that the government or client agency concerned shall secure a clearance from the Solicitor General that his prior written conformity and acquiescence for the hiring of such technica consultant is not required,” the OSG memo added. The COA, in its audit, highlighted this excerpt of the OSG memo.

Thus, the COA recommended the following: that the OVP officials who signed the pertinent contracts of service, and authorized payments made be held liable for the refund of the amount paid for the hired lawyer; cease the services contracted from the hired lawyer and to have these performed by legal staffers of the OVP; and to comply with COA and OSG rules and regulations pertaining to the hiring of private legal consultants.