Playing catch-up
BIZLINKS - Rey Gamboa (The Philippine Star) - July 12, 2018 - 12:00am

Even if investments from the Chinese side do materialize for the government’s ambitious Build Build Build (BBB) program, it seems that the big problem now is how the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) will reorganize itself so that it can catch up with all the work backlog now happening.

According to the latest Commission on Audit (COA) report, the DPWH was able to mobilize only a third of its budget in 2017, costing taxpayers some P28 million in commitment fees to banks. Commitment fees are collected on loans not yet used, in lieu of interest fees.

Of the P611 billion that the DPWH was committed to spend in 2017, only P223 billion was spent. This simply translated to thousands of infrastructure projects, including those under the BBB program that were delayed or not implemented at all.

Because of the P8.3-trillion BBB program touted to usher in the country’s Golden Age of Infrastructure, the DPWH has been receiving increased budgetary allocation by Congress under the Duterte administration.

Villar’s appointment

The appointment of its current secretary, Mark Villar, had been met with a lot of apprehension, if not criticisms, because he is the son of two of the country’s more prominent politicians, and formerly an executive in the family’s real estate business.

In fact, speculation was rife about the possibility of Villar choosing to head DPWH to help open up new roads where many of the family’s existing and future development projects are located.

Early this year, he was on the news announcing that the Laguna Boulevard to Mamplasan section of the Cavite-Laguna Expressway (CALAX) would be opened earlier by December, instead of February.

This P35.43-billion project for a 44.6-kilometer four-lane toll road between the South Luzon Expressway (SLEX)-Mamplasan interchange and the Cavite Expressway (CAVITEX) has been talked about because it would open access to a lot of real estate projects rather than easing commuter traffic.

In politics, you could say that Villar is a newbie, having been first elected in 2010 to the House of Representatives, apparently succeeding his mother, who became a senator. He seemed to be more interested in education, health and livelihood as a freshman lawmaker.

Better management plan needed

To be at the helm of a government office that wields billions of committed funds annually, and which would account for over half of the whole BBB program budget requires the stamina of a seasoned chief executive.

President Duterte may be much admired for his firm leadership hand, but he has also been criticized for choosing the wrong men, and this could be one instance.

Nonetheless, Villar has the support of his parents, and their connection. Thus, a shakeup in the DPWH, particularly at the top, may be avoided if the right catch-up management plan is laid out and relentlessly pursued.

This would mean sprucing up the current DPWH with the right people who would be able to get through with the perennial problems that the agency encounters in starting and implementing projects.

In drives around the country, many DPWH projects lie in various phases of inaction. Road sections being upgraded often have few laborers at work, and the contractors’ supervisor not in sight.

A few of the problems enumerated for project delays were permit issues, no delivery of building materials, lack of construction equipment, workers and supervisors not fit for the job, labor shortages, and poor project planning.

As the COA report has underscored, the DPWH has been remiss in providing tighter supervision of contractors, one of the biggest reasons that has led to delays and termination of projects.

COA also pointed out that the DPWH needs to review closely project contracts to find out if there has been violations, and for subsequent action – fines, damages, blacklisting – to be made if the contractor is at fault.

SIM mix-up

In our last column, I mentioned how complicated our telecommunications industry is. Competition between Smart and Globe has given rise to countless promotions and variations of consumer offerings. Here is a letter by a reader, Bel Liboro, that should add one to the books. 

“I would just like to share an experience with you regarding Globe.

“My postpaid plan is unli text/calls to Globe. If you Google which numbers belong to Globe, it will show that 0937 belongs to Globe. Our family driver’s mobile number starts with 0937. However, in my last billing statement I was charged for calling our driver, each time P6.70. It showed up as an ABS-CBN mobile.

“I called up Globe to ask why I was being charged for a Globe number. They told me that 0937 is an ABS-CBN number and not Globe. I said, aba, when did ABS-CBN become a telecom company? My driver tells me that when he buys load, it is from Globe. 

“Apparently 0937 is a strange number, belonging to ABS-CBN, powered by Globe, but it is not free if I, a postpaid customer, calls/texts that number. How do you explain that?

“I don’t know how many other numbers are out there that are pseudo numbers and the customers are not aware that they are being charged.

“To Globe’s credit, after I complained, they are adjusting my bill which will reflect in my next statement. But what about the others who do not realize that they are paying for supposedly free numbers?

“I just wanted to let you know about this so others can be warned.

“Just to be safe, we have gotten our driver a new ‘authentic’ Globe SIM.”

Facebook and Twitter

We are actively using two social networking websites to reach out more often and even interact with and engage our readers, friends and colleagues in the various areas of interest that I tackle in my column. Please like us at www.facebook.com and follow us at www.twitter.com/ReyGamboa.

Should you wish to share any insights, write me at Link Edge, 25th Floor, 139 Corporate Center, Valero Street, Salcedo Village, 1227 Makati City. Or e-mail me at reydgamboa@yahoo.com. For a compilation of previous articles, visit www.BizlinksPhilippines.net.

COMMISSION ON AUDIT DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC WORKS AND HIGHWAYS INFRASTRUCTURE
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