Gotianun-Singapore consortium pins hope on conflict-of-interest issue to secure Cebu project
MONEY-GO-ROUND - Victor C. Agustin (The Philippine Star) - January 10, 2014 - 2:53pm

There is an ongoing debate within the low-key Gotianun family -- should Filinvest chief executive Josephine Gotianun-Yap  meet the press to discuss the petition of the Filinvest-Changi Airport consortium to disqualify the Filipino-Indian group that submitted the highest bid for the Mactan airport?

The timing is crucial since there is a short window from now and probably until only next week before the bids and awards committee submits its post-qualification review to the Mactan-Cebu International Airport Authority, whose board shall after deliberations accept "the offer it deems most advantageous to the government."

And this is where the Filipino-Indian venture could falter, despite having submitted the highest of the half-a-dozen bids, on the conflict-of-interest issue being raised by the Filinvest-Changi group.

The Indian operator GMR happens to also be a joint-venture partner of another competing bidder, the Malaysian Airport Holdings Berhad, in the airports of Delhi, Hyderabad, Istanbul and Labuan (Malaysia), a cross-ownership situation which the Indian company vigorously denies posing any conflict of interest.

To ensure fair and competitive bids, the government's privatization council spelled out in an entire sub-section of the bidding rules where conflict-of-interest situations may arise among bidders, and those situations include ownership interest of at least 33.33 percent even of an affiliate of any other bidder.

Filinvest's lawyers from the Castillo Laman firm have been dissuading Gotianun-Yap from calling a press conference, preferring to wage battle through the legal and administrative channels rather than through the media megaphone.

Filinvest's Singaporean partner, despite the state's interventionist role in the Lion City, would also rather tread lightly on its business ventures overseas, preferring to leave the heavy lifting even for such a key project to its local partner.

As luck would or rather not have it, the Indian operator GMR was supposed to have been Filinvest's partner had it not been for unresolved financial-sharing issues between them.

And that was why Filinvest was all the more chagrined after the Indian operator managed to nose out its first choice of a local partner by submitting a bid only 2.85 percent higher than that submitted by the Filinvest-Singapore consortium.

Thursday afternoon, Gotianun-Yap released a press statement, apparently in lieu of meeting the business press, confirming that the Filinvest-Changi consortium had indeed asked the government to disqualify the highest bidder.

According to the grapevine, the Filinvest opposition had already been forwarded to the Department of Justice, where the legal opinion, the life and death of a P14-billion contract, would likely be drafted by career Undersecretary Geronimo Sy, the alternate director of Secretary Leila de Lima in the Mactan Cebu International Airport Authority.

Any DOJ recommendation will then be forwarded to the 11-member MCIA board, where the four Cebuano private sector representatives -- Melanie Ng, Rogelio Lim, Pericles Dakay and Francis Monera -- along with their Cebu governor, Hilario Davide III, could conceivably carry the day especially if they vote like during the national elections as one-Cebu bloc.

Given that the Gotianuns are also from Cebu and the strong trade and aviation ties between Cebu and Singapore, not to mention the spontaneous negative reactions from the Manila media, the Megawide-GMR consortium instead of celebrating has been placed on the defensive.

No wonder the consortium has been forced to spend a bundle of money on a series of newspaper ads among others to defend itself, to the delight of revenue-challenged broadsheets.

To misquote an African saying, when elephants fights, the journalists' (and lawyers', lobbyists' and bureaucrats') grass gets actually greener.

Ice cream returns to Tacloban

Ice cream, butter, cream cheese and other perishable delicacies returned on the retail shelves of Tacloban Thursday, two months after supertyphoon Yolanda and organized looting wiped out such little luxuries from the capital's lone standing mall.

With electricity restored on January 1, Robinsons Tacloban has finally managed to crank up and refill the supermarkets' refrigerated section with dairy products, shipped all the way from Manila, said Robinsons commercial centers general manager Arlene Magtibay.

The Robinsons mall and the adjoining Go hotel actually survived Yolanda with slight damage but not the waves upon waves of looters, a number armed with crowbars, many arrived in jeeps and pickups, wiping out in a matter of hours even the warehouse stocked with a month's worth of supply of supermarket items.

The looters, not content with the mall and its spread of shops, also raided the next-door hotel and broke into the rooms, ripping out television sets screwed to the walls.

The Robinsons management, like the nearby Gaisano's mall, would not discuss how much damage the looting had inflicted, preferring to write off the unfortunate episode.

The good news is, even with the supermarket now on limited operations, the supply and prices of basic commodities in Tacloban have stabilized, the big box retailer fulfilling a mini-Marshall plan for the grocery-starved Tacloban residents.

In the days right after Yolanda, a 1.5-liter of Coke for instance was selling, despite the national government's imposing a price ceiling, at P100 a bottle, as against P45 before the November 8 devastation.

The mark-up was so attractive that even sari-sari store owners from Tacloban's neighboring towns had made a beeline to  Robinsons in the pre-Christmas reopening, fielding sons and daughters to line up and maximize the one-box-per-item limit for every customer.

Heard through the grapevine

Teriyaki Boy founder Brian Tiu, who still owns 35 percent of the Japanese fast-food chain despite it having been acquired by Pancake House in 2005, is suffering from a serious case of investor indigestion.

The 38-year-old entrepreneur had been left out of the Pancake House sale to the Max's Restaurant Group, his shares still locked up in Teriyaki Boy rather than in the listed Pancake House venture.

Tiu has been trying to unload his minority interest in Teriyaki Boy since last year, and was even quoted that he wanted P200 million for his remaining stake, the proceeds of which was supposed to finance in turn the expansion of his own growing restaurant empire.

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