While the Commission on Audit has declared that it found no anomalies in the use of judiciary funds, the World Bank has found irregularities in the Supreme Court’s utilization of $21.9 million in loans for judicial reforms, and is demanding a refund of $199,900 by the end of the month.
The World Bank report coincidentally came out as Chief Justice Renato Corona is facing an impeachment trial for various offenses including graft and corruption. The WB noted that 70 out of 133 SC transactions utilizing the loan for the Judicial Reform Support Project were ineligible. The project, approved by the WB in 2003, aimed to develop a Philippine judicial system that fosters public trust and confidence.
Several procurements of goods utilizing the loan were reportedly undertaken against the approval of the WB, with 15 of the transactions traced to the office of the court administrator. The Bank noted that there has been a breakdown in internal controls pertaining to the project. It questioned Corona’s appointment of one man as court administrator, SC public information officer and head of the tribunal’s bids and awards committee. Court Administrator Midas Marquez, who was not identified in the WB report, was also reportedly authorized by Corona to approve disbursements of up to P200,000, which was later increased to P500,000.
It is not the first time that the World Bank has called the attention of Philippine authorities to anomalies in WB-funded projects. A few years ago the Bank debarred seven contractors and one individual from participating in WB-funded public works projects after they were found to have colluded in rigging the bidding for Philippine road projects supported by the World Bank.
The WB report highlights the need to open to public scrutiny the utilization of public funds by the judiciary. Fiscal autonomy does not mean exemption from laws on public accountability. The nation’s highest court should set the example in transparency and the judicious use of public funds. -