Singson bares collusion in DPWH projects

By Caroline J. Howard, ANC

Posted at Jul 28 2010 04:27 AM | Updated as of Jul 29 2010 11:39 AM

MANILA, Philippines - The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) has asked the Commission on Audit (COA) to investigate alleged anomalies involving the excessive bonuses and benefits of board members of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS).

DPWH Secretary Rogelio Singson says they are studying whether there is some legal basis for the allegation.

"I've asked the Corporate Legal Council to prepare all the resolutions in terms of when these resolutions were made, what was the basis and so on... As the board of trustees, they have primary right to protect the funds and see to it its managed well. Obviously, with these retirees getting 40%, they have first use of those funds."

Speaking on ANC'S "The Rundown" on Tuesday night, Singson says, the poor identification and prioritization of infrastructure projects may be to blame for some of the alleged anomalies in the DPWH.

"In terms of corruption or leakage, it could be in the bidding, but to me the bigger leakage is in the project identification. The identification and prioritization is very bad," Singson says.

Anomalous midnight contract

Singson cited one anomalous transaction involving a Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA)-funded infrastructure rehabilitation project which happened just 2 weeks before the end of the Arroyo administration. The transaction, pegged at P3.5 billion, involved the rehabilitation of 86 infrastructure projects from regions one to five after the onslaught of Typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng.

He, however, added it was dubiously entered into and formalized before it was officially approved by the government.

"Nineteen negotiated contracts were entered into June 18. These were concluded, negotiated, it identified who were the contractors, and signed-off. Yet the SARO [Special Allotment Release Order], the allotment release by the Department of Budget and Management was only issued June 25. So the contracts were signed even before the letter of authority was released."

Singson reveals that while DPWH personnel had told him the transaction would have to be done through a negotiated contract instead of through bidding, JICA had never imposed the terms.

"They were saying these were part of the conditionalities, this would have to be emergency. I asked JICA. They said they were asked if they could negotiate this contract. It was not an imposition by the lender," Singson says.

Collusion of DPWH-LGU officials

Singson reveals some P9 billion remained of the Road User's Tax, but an estimated P5.6 billion of it had been spent over the course of 9 years.

He also voiced reservation over what he believes may have been the irregular use of pork barrel funds for infrastructure.

Singson adds the degree of authority given to DPWH regional directors and district engineers to choose which projects to accept may have also contributed to the prevalence of anomalous transactions in the agency.

DPWH reshuffle

While Singson believes there are still good men in the agency, he realizes the need to purge the agency of corrupt practices.

In efforts to make the agency transparent, he says, he would have to reshuffle or relieve about a third of DPWH personnel.

"I've made a proposal not all will be reshuffled, some should no longer be appointed. Part of the circular included certain guidelines."

Singson says they will have to determine why 70 out of 175 district engineering offices were chosen for priority infrastructure projects.

"Although 246 projects were identified estimated at P425 million, when submitted, only 28 projects of the total number of projects were approved or 11%. The board funded 70% of the projects. Instead of P425 million, it amounted to P480 million."

Meantime, he also appealed to local government units to help government put its limited resources to good use by sticking to a list of infrastructure priorities.

"It can't be business as usual. We have to be fully transparent and accountable to the people. Every project will have to be prudent and efficient and have a definite social outcome. We will offer a menu of projects. These are our priorities. In the case of the DPWH, that our national roads are put in international standards in terms of quality and safety."

Feedback mechanism

As the DPWH strives to institute reforms in the agency, Singson hopes to engage the public through a feedback mechanism.

"I'm putting together a call center. I will need to have some time to put in software, infrastructure and people to respond to all these complaints that could come our way, as well as the backroom operations to make sure we respond."

Singson says, he has received two offers for the call center on pro-bono basis, but adds, with or without the support or private companies, the public monitoring and feedback mechanism will have to be an integral part of the agency.