The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) is seeking liquidated damages from bilyonaryo Michel Lhuillier, owner of one of the country’s biggest pawnshop chains, for the delay and non-payment of P1 billion aid to 99,800 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) displaced by the pandemic.
In a 2020 audit report released recently, the Commission on Audit said MLhuillier failed to provide OWWA with the weekly and monthly lists of OFWs who have claimed their respective aid in its branches as specified in the April 2020 agreement.
Under the AKAP program with the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), OWWA was tasked to process the names of OFWs eligible to receive $200 or P10,000 each in financial assistance from DOLE as mandated under the Bayanihan To Heal As One Act.
OWWA deposited a total of P999.996 million in financial aid to OFWS to the Land Bank of the Philippines account of MLhuillier, including the service provider’s P1.996 million total processing fee.
COA said MLhuillier did not submit the required reports on the deployment of funds (which started in April 2020) despite “repeated calls, follow-ups and reminders” by OWWA.
“These reports are significant for management to determine the extent of disbursement of funds by (MLhuillier) and for recording in the books of the OWWA. We cannot verify the transactions due to the absence of reports,” COA said.
COA said OWWA’s lack of monitoring and reconciliation of payments “effected the delay and eventually non-payment of the eligible beneficiaries under the program.”
OWWA sent Mlhuillier a demand letter seeking liquidated damages computed at one-tenth of one percent of the cost for every day of delay.
COA said MLhuiller eventually submitted a soft copy of its report which showed that it did not follow the timelines prescribed in its contract with OWWA.
OWWA said it would coordinate with DOLE to prevent any more delays in the disbursement of financial aid to OFWs. But COA also recommended that OWWA itself review its evaluation approval and payment process to avoid any more kinks in the AKAP program.
COA said the funds transferred by OWWA to MLhuillier exceeded the contract amount, with the excess funds granted to 14,800 additional grantees not covered by a supplemental agreement.
OWWA’s contract with MLhuillier originally allocated P850 million aid to 85,000 beneficiaries for a processing fee of P20 per remittance.
Aside from the lack of disbursement reports, COA said Mlhuillier also failed to open a separate bank account which would have made it easier to track the disbursement of the aid and avoid co-mingling of the financial with other OWWA program funds.
COA pointed out that OWWA ‘s negotiated procurement contract deal with MLhuillier did not contain a provision on the liability of the service provider in case it failed to submit reports or open a bank account.