MANILA -- The Department of Information and Communication Technology (DICT) told an oversight hearing of the House Appropriations Committee on Thursday that majority of free public wifi sites are down because the previous administration diverted their budgets.
DICT Secretary Ivan John Uy also explained that the subscription for many free public wifi sites was cut because these were not renewed by the past administration.
"In 2018, when they started deploying the free wifi initially there were contracts for and it was deployed about 11,000 free wifi sites. Then when we came in July of 2022, we were surprised only 3,900 were active and the rest were not active, only to find out that in 2021, the allocation of the budget for free wifi, there was no procurement for the renewal," Uy explained.
Uy explained the funds were returned.
"Hindi po binalik sa amin, ang ginawa po ng MMDA, binalik sa Treasury. Wala na po because for 2023 the funds will come in around February or March 2023," Uy said.
House Appropriations Committee chair and AKO BICOL Rep. Elizaldy Co eyed giving the agency multi-year authority to fix the situation to avoid fund juggling.
At the same time, he wants people accountable for the juggling.
Committee Senior Vice Chair and Marikina 2nd District Rep. Stella Quimbo scored the agency for the stranded funds.
Free public wifi funds for 2023 are among those that have not been spent by the agency yet, one in a long list of underspent projects under the agency's watch.
Quimbo pointed out that the agency has a lot of funds it hasn't spent and called it "non-functioning."
The agency has used just over 5 percent of its funds as of May 19 this year.
DICT Assistant Secretary for Administration and Finance Heherson Asiddao would later blame the previous administration for its underspending.
"As of the 1st half of 2022 or before we were appointed to our respected positions, that's about July or around August, the utilization rate of the DICT is at about 19 percent. I would also like to highlight that at that point in time, the procurement rate of the department is barely at 8 percent," Asiddao said.
Asiddao said their utilization has since improved, but it wasn't without challenges.
Aside from the past administration's underspending, the DICT also pointed out they had to clean house.
"We were actually surprised there are a lot of companies and agencies who are actually asking us to pay out a lot of payables, which, based on our initial investigation and due diligence reports that we have done for the department, we have noticed certain projects without any contract so what we have done is to step back," Asiddao said.
Thus, all past programs had to be reviewed.