COA questions DICT's free Wi-Fi project

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – State auditors flagged the government's free Wi-Fi program, stating that the contract gave the private sector more power over the program than it legally should.

A report by the Commission on Audit (COA) said that the financing terms for the Pipol Konek-Free Wi-Fi Internet Access in Public Places project granted the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) full control over it instead of the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT).

The DICT got the UNDP as its development partner for the project for P1.36 billion. About 92% of the total cost or P1.26 billion had already been transferred to the UNDP.

COA said that while the DICT can partner up with private entities, the deal made the entire infrastructure of the project part of the UNDP's assets.

"Ownership of equipment, supplies, and other property financed from the contribution shall vest in UNDP. Matters relating to the transfer of ownership by UNDP shall be determined in accordance with the relevant policies and procedures of UNDP," the report said.

"In essence therefore, the contribution of P1,362,084,618.28 by DICT constitutes donation to UNDP. And because the funds are now part of the UNDP's financial resources and are its assets…it appears now that the Pipol Konek becomes entirely a project of the UNDP and not of DICT," COA added.

Moreover, COA said that the agreement also gave the UNDP power to ask for more funding in case of unforeseeable events.

While the government can indeed provide additional funding, refusing to do so may compromise the billion-peso project.

"By entering into the [financing agreement] with these provisions, DICT has bounded the government to produce additional funds to be made available to the UNDP which are not yet appropriated by Congress," COA said.

Under the deal with the UNDP, Pipol Konek's target is 6,000 sites. As of February 20, 2019, the DICT said 4,873 sites have been installed, 2,304 of which are operational.

COA has asked DICT officials to explain the terms of the agreement and present the timetable for the completion of the project. – Rappler.com