Friday, September 21st, 2018

Isabela House (Construction Log 10) Permits Pt.2 and Graft in the Philippines


After lunch we drove out with Gina’s sister to visit the construction site. The project engineer had just arrived back from a another wasted day at City Hall waiting for the City Engineer to approve the payment for and release of the building permits we applied for on 25th November. This time the excuse was the engineering department Christmas party, but basically the City Engineer appears to be avoiding the project engineer. This tactic has lasted almost a week now and patience is wearing thin.

Because of the continued delay in the issue of the building permits, our contractors, Northcon, are now moving towards filing an official complaint with the interior ministry (and we think at provincial level also) for a breach of the Republic Act No 9485 (June 2, 2007). This lays down standards for the handling by the public servants of applications for such things as building permits.

If a complaint is proven against a public servant they can face a minimum of one month suspension without pay. Since Northcon were not advised of any defect within 5 days of filing the application, the permits must be issued within a reasonable time and currently we are at the 27 day mark which is totally unreasonable. The project engineer is keeping a log which is signed every time he visits City Hall to attempt to see the City Engineer and secure the release of the permits. If necessary this will be produced as evidence to support any complaint filing.

We can only guess at the objective of those involved, but IF (we must emphasize the word IF as nothing is proven at this stage) the intention is to extract an illegal payment, Northcon have made it perfectly clear that they do not pay under the table and we will not countenance such payments either.

The Republic Act No 9485 also addresses corruption and if any official is found to have taken money under the table the penalty is far greater than that for simple obstruction. Of course, proving corruption is very difficult unless officials receive the payment directly, but the fact that someone in the engineers department appears to have requested a payment from the Northcon project engineer naturally arouses our suspicions. No further messages requesting money have been received since.

The project engineer told us he had yesterday delivered a bottle of vodka to the City Engineer’s house as a Christmas goodwill gesture.

Gina and I do hope that further action proves unnecessary, particularly at Christmas but we will post further updates as the situation develops.

The project engineer will be following up the matter at City Hall tomorrow and every working day between now and Christmas and thereafter through to and beyond New Years Day until the permits are issued.

After an exchange of texts between the City Engineer and our contractor, Northcon, this morning it appears that the City Engineer has given the green light for concrete pouring and Northcon have authorised payment of the building permit charges.

The content of the text messages is not at present clear but Northcon have instructed that they not be deleted so we assume they may be incriminating in some way. We will visit the site this morning to find out more. We don’t know whether the intention to file a complaint was mentioned although we do know that the project engineer had a copy of the Philippines Act in his hand when he visited City Hall.

I have just returned from visiting the site with Justin and all systems are go. At the end there was apparently a rather ironic text from the City Engineer to the project engineer to the effect that the project engineer had the stronger hand and that construction could now proceed even though “he didn’t get what he wanted”. I leave you to draw your own conclusions as to what he meant.

My professional contacts at PricewaterhouseCoopers and KPMG have indicated that since 2004, and particularly since the 2007 legislation passed into law, there have been far more prosecutions, and even a substantial number of “big fish” have been caught in the net. So while it has to be said that corruption is still endemic here, as the song goes, “times they are a changing” and public servants now have to be far more careful.

Anyway, I am relieved it was not necessary to file a charge against anyone on this occasion and let us hope that it proves unnecessary in the future now that our policy on under the table payments is clear.

I almost forgot that apparently there was also been a suggestion of a “Christmas present”. hence Northcon’s approval of a gift of some vodka, something we fully supported as it is standard business practice at Christmas in the UK. And it was Black Label vodka too! None of your cheap stuff!

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