JUSTICE Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra ruled out conflict of interest in the government’s review of contracts with water companies, saying it was he who had led the review.
Critics earlier cited a potential conflict of interest since Justice Undersecretary Emmeline Aglipay-Villar is married to Public Works Secretary Mark A. Villar, whose family owns water utility PrimeWater Infrastructure Corp.
“Certainly not,” Mr. Guevarra said of alleged vested interests involving Ms. Villar, adding that any lawyer reviewing the contracts would come up with similar findings.
President Rodrigo R. Duterte earlier criticized water companies for what he alleged were onerous terms in their contracts with the government.
He said the review had been delegated at the agency and it was only coincidental that it fell under Ms. Villar’s supervision.
“Believe me when I say that any good lawyer will see the inequitable provisions in the water concession agreements,” Mr. Guevarra said. “The fact that Undersecretary Emmeline Villar is part of the DoJ review team is totally irrelevant.”
Ms. Villar said that it was the legal staff who worked with Mr. Guevarra during the review.
“I don’t know where this came from but the department conducted a disinterested review of the concession agreements and I don’t want to even dignify it further by answering further accusations,” she told reporters on Thursday.
Mr. Guevarra last week said they found onerous provisions including noninterference of government in rate-setting and a provision on government liability in case the corporations lose money.
He also said that the extension of the water companies’ 25-year contracts until 2037 are irregular since these won’t expire until 2022.
Regulator Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System this week said it had revoked the contract extensions. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas