Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Arroyo orders review of all foreign-funded projects

Arroyo orders review of all foreign-funded projects

By Christine Avendaño, Gil C. Cabacungan Jr. - Inquirer

With the World Bank still not moving to lift its suspension of deliberations on the $232-million soft loan intended for Philippine road projects, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has issued a string of instructions to ensure that foreign-assisted and funded projects would be free of irregularities.

The instructions, which include a review of the road projects covered by the suspended WB loan, were contained in Administrative Order No. 210.

Cabinet officials, meanwhile, snubbed Monday the Senate probe of the suspended $232-million WB loan, due to corruption, as they pressed for more time to prepare their defense.

Sen. Loren Legarda, chair of the committee on economic affairs, was visibly irritated by the last-minute decision by the Cabinet members to skip the probe but was relieved that they did not invoke Executive Order 464.

EO 464 prohibits government officials from testifying before congressional committees without the permission of the President.

But Legarda warned that she would hold the Cabinet officials in contempt if they fail to live up to their commitment to attend the next hearing scheduled next month.

Legarda said she received a call from Presidential Management Staff chief Cerge Remonde who cited the “lack of material time” and evacuation efforts for Typhoon “Mina” as the Cabinet secretaries’ main reasons for their absence.

AO No. 210

The President issued AO 210 on Nov. 22, the day Finance Secretary Margarito Teves and WB officials held a joint news conference wherein the WB affirmed its commitment to fund Phase 2 of National Roads Improvement and Management Program (NRIMP) but only after safeguards had been put in place to prevent the recurrence of irregularities.

Under the administrative order titled “Harnessing Government, Civil Society and Sectoral Groups for Transparency and Procurement Process,” Ms Arroyo directed the Pro-Performance System (PPS) and the Procurement Transparency Group (PTG) to review the road projects and “to report to the President.”

The PPS is under the Presidential Management Staff office while the PTG is under the Government Procurement Policy Board, which in turn is under the Department of Budget and Management.

No surprise

Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya said the AO came as no surprise because the President had already given him instructions to conduct a review of the road projects and his office was “coordinating with the WB on the procurement issue.”

“Whether it’s Phase 1 or Phase 2 of the NRIMP, it’s still the procurement process of the WB which would be looked into,” Andaya said in a phone interview, when asked what particular road project in the NRIMP would be subject for review.

Before the WB incident, Andaya said the President had given Cabinet officials instructions “months back” to refine and strengthen the implementation of the procurement law.

In her order, Ms Arroyo asked the Presidential Anti-Graft and Corruption to “report on the suspended road projects and consult with the World Bank and other funding agencies on other anomalies to investigate.”

And to ensure that foreign-funded projects would be free of irregularities, the President issued the following directives:

• The PPS and the National Economic and Development Authority must undertake regular consultations with foreign-funding agencies to minimize, uncover and address anomalies in foreign-funded projects;

• The PTG must submit a detailed plan for the deployment of civil society observers in bids and awards committees handling projects worth P100 million or more;

• The GPPB must review regulations, systems and procedures for Official Development Assistance and government-to-government projects and recommend integrity and transparency reforms;

• The DBM must source funds for the investigation of irregularities in foreign-funded infrastructure projects.

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