Disconcerting downloads

ROSES & THORNS - Pia Roces Morato - The Philippine Star

“This download is suspicious, and may cause harm. Are you sure you want to continue?”

This prompt appeared on my computer screen as I tried to save an email attachment. Needless to say, it is somewhat reassuring to know that there are virtual fences in place to help protect the sensitive and important files in my hard drive. Among government agencies, a “download” can take on another meaning entirely. It is quite common for agencies to “download” budgets allotted to them by the national government to another agency – in other words, a de facto subcontractualization of work, with the accompanying fees.

Inherently, there is nothing illegal about this practice, if all the proper requirements are met. But as countless wise men and pundits have observed since time immemorial, what is legal is not necessarily moral or upright. Leave it to the Filipino’s penchant for “diskarte” to find a way to slip through loopholes and beat the system.

This is one of the causes currently being championed by Senior Deputy Minority Leader and Nothern Samar Representative Paul Daza. In the plainest possible words, the good congressman is clearly sick and tired of how this inter-agency download practice has been abused, and wants institutional changes to be made. As a seemingly blatant example, Daza has brought to light the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT)’s billion-peso downloads to the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA).

For better context, this came about when Congress was lamenting the DICT’s deplorable performance in the implementation of the free public WiFi program. It turns out that the DICT transferred P1.1 billion of its allotted funds to the MMDA, in order for the latter to undertake the “NCR Fiber Optic Development Backbone” component of the overall project. These funds were ostensibly transferred without anyone from Congress knowing about it. If anyone is scratching their heads now, wondering  why the DICT felt that the MMDA is more qualified than they are to oversee a fiber optic development backbone project... I join you in your confusion.

A quick refresher on the mandate of MMDA will tell us that the agency’s key priorities align with the management of traffic and transportation, waste and sewerage, flood control, health and sanitation, public safety and pollution control, among others. All equally important services, but none where information and communications technology initiatives actually belong, unless we commit ourselves to considerable mental gymnastics.

While it stands to be answered if the MMDA is truly prepared for such an undertaking, another revelation from Rep. Daza has left the ground shaky for the agency – the P1.1-billion contract was apparently awarded by MMDA to a lone bidder, a joint venture where one party had previously caused an accident on EDSA. An unwavering MMDA acting Chairman Romando Artes has since defended to the press the legality of the fund transfer. He is, however, yet to elaborate on the allegedly anomalous way it’s being used. But if legality isn’t an issue, then it shouldn’t also be an excuse.

Now that Congress is in the early stages of a probe into the matter, let us be hopeful that the right questions are asked. It is, after all, imperative that the House looks after the sound fiscal management of the taxpayer’s money. Are we still sure that we want to continue downloads?


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