Corruption probe seen unlikely to block infrastructure plans
President Duterte goes through a document before presiding over a recent Cabinet meeting at Malacañang.

Corruption probe seen unlikely to block infrastructure plans

Ian Nicolas Cigaral (Philstar.com) - October 28, 2020 - 8:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The timely rollout of capital outlays will not be sacrificed as a result of President Rodrigo Duterte’s order to probe corruption allegations in the bureaucracy, foremost of which was with the government’s main infrastructure agency.

“Secretary (Mark) Villar is committed to ensuring infra projects are delivered on time,” Anna Mae Lamentillo, chair of the public works department’s “Build, Build, Build” program, said in a Viber message on Tuesday.

Transport Assistant Secretary Goddes Hope Libiran echoed this for the transport agency, also handling big-ticket projects. “There will be no effect…,” she said in a text message.

Duterte has tasked the justice department to launch a government-wide investigation on possible corruption anomalies, expanding an earlier order that covered only allegations at the public works agency.

In response, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said “strike task forces” will be formed to handle the probe, adding their work should not derail the normal course of business of agencies. “The objective of the task force is to weed out the crooks in graft-ridden agencies, not to stop legitimate projects,” he said in a text message.

But for Ibarra Paulino, executive director at Philippine Constructors Association, an industry group that claims to corner over 80% of state projects, some project delays should be expected due to the investigations, although for good reasons. 

“For some reasons akin to regions suspected in the past with government officials and contractors in collusion, slowing down of projects may happen,” Paulino said in a phone interview.

“Many of our members don't want to participate anymore in government projects simply because we don't want to get involved in collusions. Some local governments already have their favored contractors and even if we win, we would have a hard time securing licenses,” he added.

While beneficial for contractors, which claim to spend up to 35% of project costs to grease hands of officials to let projects run through, the probe would only worsen an already sluggish spending of state funds for recovery. This is crucial, especially since the Duterte administration has banked on infrastructure development to pull up the economy from recession.

As it is, infrastructure spending has struggled to catch up from lost time during the lockdowns. Capital outlays sank 18.4% year-on-year in August when the economy had already reopened, bringing the year-to-date contraction to 4.6% annually.

That said, Lamentillo said other mechanisms are in place to ensure timely delivery of public projects. “No time suspensions are provided without the prior approval of the secretary or the undersecretary in charge,” she said.

“Negligence or inexcusable failure of the contractor to provide the required equipment, supplies, or materials are also not tolerated,” she added.

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