Labor execs in Hong Kong face probe over contract award
OFFICIALS of the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) in Hong Kong will be investigated for alleged improprieties in the awarding of a contract to a new service provider for the office’s new online system.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello 3rd said the probe would proceed as soon as Labor Undersecretary for Legal Claro Arellano submits his findings and recommendations that “there is a reasonable ground” to conduct an inquiry.
Arellano headed a three-man fact-finding team from the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) that recently went to Hong Kong to look into a complaint against former Hong Kong Labor attaché Jalilo de la Torre, whose tour of duty has ended, and other POLO officials.
“After receiving a report, as part of due process, you determine if there is a reasonable ground for a formal investigation. If there is such basis, you inform the winning bidder and Labor attaché to present their side, and after that you can come up with your decision if there was really an irregularity in the bidding process or any act that would be tantamount to criminal offense,” Bello said at the maiden episode of The Manila Times’ “Keeping up with The Times” forum.
He added that he had already received the initial report of Arellano upon the latter’s return from his fact-finding mission but did not disclose contents of the report.
“I’m not at liberty to divulge that because it’s an investigation and any information might create some wrong impression. They will be given notice to answer,” Bello said.
Meanwhile, the Lilac Center for Public Interest Inc. (Lilac), which exposed the Hong Kong-POLO online system, has accused Hong Kong service provider Polaris Tools Ltd. (Polaris) of undermining the investigation and urged the DoLE to reprimand it.
Lilac President Nicon Fameronag made the call after Jaime Deverall, Polaris Tools president, said in an interview with the South China Morning Post, “There’s a combination of corrupt officials within the Department of Labor and Employment and employment agencies who have been profiteering off Filipino workers for decades . . .”
Fameronag cited a statement of Polaris Corporate Secretary David Bishop that claimed that Deverall had already met with the head of the DoLE investigating team, that “the meeting went very well” and that “we are very confident that things will be decided in our favor.”
Arellano has denied the claim and said the investigation was not yet over.
“Mr. Bishop is trying to condition the minds of the Filipino people and the OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) that Polaris Tools Ltd. will be vindicated in the investigation, thus undermining the work of the investigators. Why doesn’t he just wait?” Fameronag said.
He added that he had received information threatening him to back off the investigation or face jail time.
Bello ordered the investigation of POLO-Hongkong after an online system for processing, credentialing, welfare protection and data storage for overseas placement was replaced.
The new online system will replace the one that has been used for 11 years, and has provided OFWs, employers and accredited employment agencies data and information on POLO programs, projects and services on real-time.
Reports said POLO-Hong Kong, intending to pave the way for the new system, on Dec. 5, 2018 terminated the service agreement with EmployEasy Ltd., now Employeasy Group Ltd., the provider of the current online system, effective Dec. 30, 2018.
Reports also said a copy of the contract for the new system showed that it was signed on March 7, 2019 between the POLO, represented by Labor attaché de la Torre; Polaris Tools Ltd., represented by Jaime Deverall; and one Lindsay Ernst.
Two other officials of the POLO, Marivic Clarin and Joszua Villa, also signed the contract.
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