New projects approved? Press release lang

September 9, 2015 at 15:00

New projects approved? Press release lang

Don’t get too excited over a Malacañang press release announcing NEDA approval of some P131-B worth of mass transport and energy projects. There is no time to complete bidding documents, much less actually implement these projects. Worse, the next administration is likely to put these projects on hold until they can complete their own studies.

That was why I was nagging DOTC to get these projects done before P-Noy leaves office. It’s back to square one every time an administration’s term expires and a new one steps up.

That LRT1 extension project, for instance, went through the mill under four administrations. While it has now been awarded to the Ayala-MPIC consortium, it has not broken ground because of many technical and legal problems.

The standard reply I get when I nag is that DOTC lawyers are carefully vetting all contracts to make sure everything is in order. Unfortunately, despite the delay, the vetting has not been any better. They seem to have serious problems writing the projects’ Terms of Reference, stalling implementation.

Indeed, I just found out the LRT-1 Extension to Cavite project is going nowhere. The “winner” discovered the right of way or ROW offered by DOTC and LRTA is not the same as the stipulated alignment. So, they could not start construction.

My source told me the Ayala consortium is only responsible for track infrastructure (viaducts and stations). The electromechanical (new depot, signaling, and additional trains) are government-funded via JICA loan. However, drawdown is delayed – we are now paying penalties. Given DOTC’s record, delay may be for an indefinite period.

This is worse than what happened in Mactan Airport, where DOTC neglected to prepare the relocation site before awarding the project. The Philippine Air Force currently occupies the site for the new terminal building. Hence, GMR-Megawide could not start construction beyond the ceremonial groundbreaking for P-Noy’s benefit.

Then it was revealed last week DOTC asked the Budget department to set aside P7.5-B to pay for penalty to the LRT-1 contractor. Apparently, there are already problems in meeting the contract terms covered by penalties even if the project has not broken ground.

The leftist Bayan group accused DOTC of allowing onerous provisions in the contract, suggesting a possible collusion between DOTC and the private partner. Bayan may be too imaginative but still, we must find out if the battery of lawyers lording it over DOTC failed to look after the interest of government.

There have been growing suspicions about DOTC’s seeming incompetence. As we saw in the supposed emergency procurement of MRT 3’s maintenance contractor, there seems to be a pattern in DOTC’s manner of bidding out projects that invite suspicion. My colleague, Jarius Bondoc recently revealed secret negotiations for a P4.25-billion contract for MRT-3 have started.

According to Jarius, selected “bidders” were quietly called in for initial talks on the “project,” supposedly for maintenance of the railway, overhaul of 43 coaches, and a new signaling system. Among the attendees were power brokers from the ruling Liberal Party who have cornered MRT-3 maintenance deals since 2012. Transport Sec. Joseph Abaya is acting president of the LP.

Abaya did not post the P4.25 billion project in either website of the DOTC or PhilGEPS (Government Electronic Procurement System), Bondoc pointed out. Copies of a 447-page manual on the negotiations were provided to the chosen few. It is entitled, “Negotiated Procurement for the DOTC-MRT3 Maintenance Service Provider, 43 LRV (Light Rail Vehicle) General Overhauling, and Total Replacement of Signaling System.”

I have not heard of a credible response from DOTC on the revelations of Jarius and Bayan. I asked a source familiar with DOTC operations and this was the response I got:

“Either one is incompetent (bad RFP or Request for Procurement leads to failure of bidding), or devious (intentional, to force negotiated bid condition). Take your pick.

“Same narrative for LRT-2 extension. Disqualify everybody (including those involved in the same job on the original LRT-2, and the North Loop), so that a Korean firm backed up by ?? would win. Or are the trips of several DOTC officials to Seoul (presumably to learn about viaduct and tracks) caused the delay? A Korean also for Cebu BRT, what a coincidence!”

Anyway, I just wanted to warn people who think DOTC is finally moving with last week’s NEDA approval of long pending projects. Indeed, LRT Line 4 and LRT Line 6 will definitely improve the country’s mass transportation system, but the question is still, when?

The approval of the new passenger terminal building at Clark International Airport (CIA), as well as the Naga City Airport Development Project, have long been sought. But none of these projects will see the light of day or even have grounds broken any time soon. The purpose of the press release on the approval was to mitigate the sorry image of Mar Roxas who is now being held responsible for the delays in transport projects.

That something is wrong with DOTC’s processes can also be seen in another press release about the award of a study to a British firm to help reduce air traffic congestion at NAIA. I have no problems with the British firm chosen as experts I talked to confirm they are one of the best.

My question is, why only now? The problem was there even before Mar Roxas left DOTC. So I e-mailed Usec. Timmy Limcaoco to ask him precisely that question. This is his reply:

“Hi Boo

“We started market sounding on this bid sometime first half of 2013, and launched the bid second half of 2013. Unfortunately, the bid failed twice as the bidders failed to meet or submit some eligibility of documentary requirements. Hence natagalan, and that’s why the award is only now. So this award to NATS arose from the third time around.”

Oh well… it is one more indication that cabal of lawyers don’t know how to call for bids. Maybe their bid specifications and requirements are not clear or not acceptable to industry. That seems to be the story for most, if not all the bids they have called for.

DOTC and its lack of performance will definitely be a main issue in next year’s election. The trouble is, the candidates are not familiar with the details of DOTC’s failure. For example, Jojo Binay’s comment on the problem reveals a total lack of knowledge.

According to Jojo, he will propose the creation of a Department of Transportation and remove Communication from its scope. I have news for Jojo. When Mar took over DOTC, he told me he took out Communications precisely because he thinks he already has too much on his plate. Communications is now under DOST. The National Telecoms Commission reports to the Office of the President.

So Jojo is proposing only a change in name which means nothing. We need something more substantial. The mass transit responsibilities of DOTC should be devolved to an invigorated MMDA or a regional commission for Cebu and Davao. The airports should be moved to the regional development councils.

Given the fiasco in LRT1 extension and the Mactan airport, the DOTC staff clearly lacks competence. DOTC is supposed to be staffed by de campanilla lawyers, but they are hit by legal delays. There is also the PPP Center and NEDA and DOF checking the finer details of contracts. All those put together and we still end up with a big fat zero performance.

Mar cannot run away from the DOTC’s failures. He set the pace and the rules for DOTC during his watch there. I am told, he often got involved in DOTC discussions even after he was already at DILG.

Vote rich Mega Manila is suffering from the failure of an agency closely identified with Mar. He must convince voters it is Sec. Abaya’s fault and he would do better as president. But there is no running away from the DOTC stigma in the same way that Jojo Binay cannot run away from the corruption charges as mayor of Makati.

Remember the press release on the Makati-BGC subway running under the Manila Golf Club? Same thing… press release lang. They can’t even run the MRT, subway pa. They only want to keep people hoping to mask failure to deliver.

Father-daughter car talk…

The daughter tells her Dad, “Dad there is something my boyfriend said to me that I didn’t understand. You know he is into cars, but I don’t talk in car parts. He said I have a beautiful chassis, lovely airbags and a fantastic bumper.”

Her Dad replied, “You tell your boyfriend that if he opens your hood and tries to check your oil with his dipstick, I will tighten his nuts so hard that his headlights will pop out and he will start leaking out of his exhaust pipe.”


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