In this digital age, information can be transmitted from one
person to another in an instant, with a few presses and clicks on the screen of
a gadget; that same information can be shared by practically everyone in the planet
who has access to the internet.
The government therefore serves the public well by uploading
readily accessible information about the so-called “big ticket” projects under
its “Build Build Build” (BBB) Program by maintaining a website at build.gov.ph.
Anyone, especially the Filipino taxpayers, who wishes to track the progress of
these projects can do so by simply browsing the pages of that website.
The other day I read from the papers that the Asian
Development Bank (ADB) has just approved a loan for the 53.1-kilometer
Malolos-Clark Railway Project in the amount of USD2.7 billion. This reportedly
was the biggest loan package the bank has ever extended for any single project.
Implemented by the Department of Transportation, this project
is part of the bigger Php149 billion North-South Commuter Railway (NSCR)
Project which was started in 2013. The BBB website summarizes its project
description as “a 147-km mass transportation
railway system traversing Clark, Pampanga (Region 3), and Calamba, Laguna
(Region 4). It has 3 interconnected railway systems: 1) the PNR Clark Phase 1,
2) The PNR Clark Phase 2 [Clark Extension], and 3) PNR Calamba. The total cost
is PhP777.551 Billion. The PNR Clark Phase 1 involves the construction of a
37.6-km rail line that will connect Tutuban, Manila to Malolos, Bulacan. With
this line, commuters from Tutuban will reach Malolos in approximately 35
minutes from over 1 and 30 minutes of travel time. It can accommodate 300,000
passengers daily in its opening year.”
There is a bar graph that shows progress of project
implementation, from project development, to procurement, to project
implementation (meaning, construction). Sub bar graphs for each milestone show
that project development progress is at zero percent; procurement at zero
percent; and project implementation progress is also at zero percent.
Right there one will find that the website is deficient. It
needs regular updating. For a project that started 6 years ago (in the middle
of the Aquino administration), zero progress in at least the initial stages of
project development and procurement cannot be, in my view, an accurate
accounting. Surely a project cannot get ADB approval without sufficient project
Project development, includes, at the minimum,
pre-feasibility and/or feasibility studies, resettlement plan (for those who
will be displaced), environment plan, right of way financing, procurement plan,
organizational structuring, sustainability and operational and maintenance
plan, and financing/loan documentation. All of these studies go through
rigorous, sometimes contentious, discussion and analyses, which largely explain
why government projects take time to get done.
Adequate documentation of consultative processes involving
stakeholders is vital during the early stages of project development,
especially with the size and scope of BBB projects. How are the population
being displaced by these projects going to cope with their livelihood? What
will mitigate destruction of the eco-system if project sites are within
mangrove areas, for example? Answers to these questions are some of the basic
information, among many others, that the BBB website should make readily
available for the public to access.
On procurement, citizens would appreciate being given the
ability to browse or download documentation of each step being undertaken
within the entire bidding process. Procurement consists of mandatory steps,
such as planning, pre-procurement conference; issuance of procurement notices;
pre-bid conference; submission, examination and evaluation of bids;
post-evaluation qualification; then finally notice of award and notice to
Procurement planning, at which stage project cost is
determined, is crucial for establishing the conditions that will either enable
or disable irregularities to happen during the course of project
implementation. Here project proponents determine unit costs for each project
component. Overpricing by a few centavos for each unit of material, for
example, means millions of pesos can be lost to corruption if total cost runs
into billions of pesos. At some point after evaluation of bids, observers can
also tell if collusion among bidders took place, indicating that the purpose of
getting the best value for money through competition has been compromised.
Many studies have shown that up to 40 percent of public
funds are lost due to corruption. Most of these leaks happen during procurement
and contract execution.
And yet, if done properly, government procurement can provide
the most efficient process by which public funds are converted into goods and
services that can eventually benefit the people. Some experts even argue that
government projects that go through procurement are in the long run less
costly, from the viewpoint of the taxpaying public, than those that apply private-public-partnership
methods of financing. That’s because while PPPs can mobilize private funds for
public goods, they also promote private gain more than they ease public pain.