Sunday, 15 February 2009

World Bank funds $250-m Philippine road project despite probe

Joyce Pangco Pañares, Joel E. Zurbano, Roy Pelovello, Fel V. Maragay
The Manila Standard

THE World Bank will still finance the third stage of the National Roads Improvement and Management Program, worth $200 million to $250 million, despite its claim of bid rigging in the project’s first stage, Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya said yesterday.

The decision to push through with the financing meant the multilateral lending agency had put the issue behind it, he said.

“The incident involving the $33-million portion of the $150-million Phase 1 is a non-issue already. Reforms have been put in place,” Andaya said.

“If things go well, the proposal is for [stage 3] to be introduced either this year or next year.”

Press Secretary Cerge Remonde said the World Bank’s decision to boost its loans to the Philippines by up to $1 billion a year from this year to 2012 showed it “continues to have faith” in the government’s processes for development projects.

Meanwhile, the Public Works Department has summoned 17 of its staff to shed light on the World Bank’s claim of cheating in the bidding.

“We will sanction them if they fail to appear,” said Oliver Rodolfo, a member of the department’s investigating team.

“These people took part in the bidding process, but that does not necessarily mean they are guilty [of dishonesty].”

Over at the House, Reps. Pedro Romualdo and Rodito Albano said a report by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism on the Bank’s charges vindicated lawmakers’ doubts on the lending agency’s claims.

“The report confirms what we have been saying all along: that the [World Bank] report is shot with hearsay,” said Romualdo, chairman of the committee on good government and public accountability.

“We have been crucifying the contractors and public officials tagged in the report. Then we later discover it may not have been as credible as earlier claimed,” Albano said.

Senator Mar Roxas said the Senate must accept the World Bank’s offer to help investigate graft instead of blaming it for its lapses.

But Senator Jamby Madrigal urged her colleagues to sanction the Bank for refusing to cooperate in the Senate’s investigation of its charges.

“It is appalling that the Senate has to subpoena the World Bank to gain its cooperation,” she said.

Andaya said the Ombudsman could only use the World Bank’s report as “leads” for its own investigation.

“The [World Bank] report cannot be used or be referred to in any [other] report,” he said.

“You can’t use the names there. They are saying that we should do our own investigation, and that’s where we are right now.”

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