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Bid Bid Bid

The DOTr lawyer, who also acts as the department’s PR person, wrote in her letter to my editor that I must understand “It is likewise important to note that government processes take time... Procurement when done properly and aboveboard can take months and months and even years.”

That’s what I was afraid of. The good intentions of DOTr Secretary Art Tugade aside, he has to work with a bureaucracy whose mindset got us nowhere during the Roxas-Abaya reign in that department. It is a mindset that goes against the grain of the Duterte administration’s Build Build Build.

Is she saying that we have to wait “months and months, even years” for DOTr projects to get going if they are to do it properly? That’s not the impression we got from Budget Secretary Ben Diokno when he reassured us that it is all systems go and that the administration could roll out projects properly without sacrificing speed.

We are all tired of hearing the usual excuse about how cumbersome the Procurement Law is. Indeed, we raised that question to Secretary Diokno and he assured us the law would not be a hindrance to their sense of urgency in rolling out projects. It is Diokno’s budget department that eventually bids out the projects, so I assumed he knows what he is saying.

I asked a young lawyer who trained at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy what he thought about the inability of the Duterte administration to more forcefully carry out its Build Build Build program. Because he also had some experience working in the Philippine bureaucracy, I also asked if the Procurement Law excuse is excusable.

“Suffice it to say,” he responded, “the President’s economic managers—and key implementers for big-ticket infrastructure projects (especially, DPWH, DOTr and DepEd), should be able to get from talking about ‘Build Build Build’ to actually doing ‘Bid Bid Bid.’

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“From experience, one detail that slows down the ability of an agency to tender a project is their inability to produce, develop, and put out their bid documents (especially the technical supporting documents). The other ‘hiccup’ is that, some heads of agencies are too scared of the Procurement Law that they would rather ‘CYA’ or ‘cover your ass’ every single step, by seeking an opinion from the Government Procurement Policy Board-Technical Support Office or GPPB-TSO.

“What happens, then? Heads of Agencies or, in procurement terms, ‘Head of the Procurement Entity’ (HOPE) are hopelessly at the mercy of ‘technical experts’ which the government does not always have ready access to (at least, not from within their organic personnel/plantilla).

“And so, even before they can bid out the projects, they bid for the procurement of consultants who help them prepare the bid documents! This is part of the reason why the whole process of implementing projects (to cover and include bidding, award, notice to proceed, and actual implementation) takes anywhere from an amazing breakneck speed of six months to 16 months, or even two years.

“Now, if you look at the current ‘Revised Implementing Rules and Regulations’ of the Government Procurement Reform Act or GPRA, under the sub-section on ‘Detailed Engineering for the Procurement of Infrastructure Projects,’ the exception is ‘design and build.’

“Annex G of the Revised IRR provides you with the advantages and disadvantages/risks (as well as safeguards to mitigate those risks). For example, in order to control the quality and outcome, the agency should prepare a ‘conceptual design.’ Quite easily, tendering a project on ‘design and build’ basis can shave off six months to a year that would otherwise be lost to ‘project studies and preparation.’

“What this would require, though, is not just political will, but also a clear vision for the project. It is up to the HOPE of each agency—Secretary (Mark) Villar, Secretary Tugade and Secretary (Leonor) Briones—to have a clear vision of what they want for each project, and to communicate and translate that into the Terms of Reference for their respective projects.

“Then again, that’s fairly basic: any good manager should be able to communicate clear and unmistakable instructions. I have no doubt the administration’s officials should be able to justify putting out a tender, on design and build basis, under Sections 5.1.a. to 5.1.c. of Annex G.

“Now, whether or not they have read the GPRA and are familiar with this little detail is an entirely different matter. Not to mix metaphors, but if God (or the Devil) is, indeed, in the details, and ‘good intentions’ pave the road to hell, then, HOPEfully, it’s getting things done that will get us closer to that much-desired Heaven.”

He is right. If former DOTC secretary Jun Abaya had used design and build for LRT2 extension, we would not have the stupid outcome of the superstructure being completed way ahead of the rails, stations, electrical connections and everything else.

The design and build is also nothing new. This is what former president Gloria Arroyo did to fasttrack the extension of LRT1 from Monumento to North Edsa and they completed the project in record time.

In design and build government won’t have to pay a contractor to do the design and will also avoid arguments between designer and builder later on if problems arise. There is a single point of responsibility.  But Abaya broke up the project into bits which delayed it tremendously.

A report from the ADB on the state of our procurement process underscored the vital importance of our GPRA. Its passage, ADB noted, was in response to the right of citizens to expect their government to spend funds for the good of the people. In the past, corruption, inefficiency, ignorance, and disorganization have resulted in billions of pesos worth of losses.

According to ADB, “the passage and promulgation of Republic Act 9184, otherwise known as the Government Procurement Reform Act (GPRA), resulted in the replacement of multiple laws, rules, and regulations by a unified public procurement legal framework.

“The GPRA aimed to reduce opportunities for graft and corruption; harmonize the system with international standards and practices; and promote transparency, competitiveness, and accountability.”

That’s why the last thing we expect from our officials is to complain about the Procurement Law. Secretary Diokno didn’t seem the least bit worried about it delaying Build Build Build, and neither should the DOTr lawyer.

Indeed, design and build could be one way DOTr could fast track their projects. Perhaps what Sec. Tugade needs is a new set of lawyers at DOTr with a fresh outlook and are imaginative enough to see how to do things faster rather than those who just surrender to the usual kalakalan and claim projects must take “months and months, if not years” to be done according to the current Procurement Law.

Or maybe we should pay officials based on what they have delivered. If projects are delayed, so should their pay.

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco.

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