File photo by Rob Reyes/Rappler
MANILA, Philippines – Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto stepped up his bid to reform the local government by promising regularity and transparency in awarding contracts for public projects.
One way to reduce the cost of projects: he vowed never to accept “kickbacks” or grease money.
Without naming names or making direct accusations, Sotto addressed the common perception that the process of finding private contractors for government projects and services is often manipulated by those in power to enrich themselves.
It’s become an open secret in Philippine governance that pilferage and grease money paid to bureaucrats cause project costs to soar, to the detriment of the taxpaying public.
“I guarantee that during my administration, the prices of all government contracts will decrease by at least 10%,” Sotto said during city hall’s flag ceremony on Monday, September 2.
“1. Bubuksan natin nang tunay ang public bidding. Kaibigan o kalaban, welcome mag-bid. Wala akong papanigan, walang lutuan.” (We will truly open public biddings. Friend or foe, welcome to bid. I won’t favor anyone, no rigging.)
The law states that government projects must be awarded to the lowest competent bidder.
Much of the reported corruption in national and local government agencies have to do with anomalous bidding processes, in which the contracts are awarded to companies with ties to an incumbent official, or to those who could fill officials’ pockets. (READ: DOCUMENTS: Calida security firm 'corners' at least 16 gov't contracts)
Project costs were found to have been jacked up to cover grease money paid to whichever official influenced the bidding’s outcome. (READ: COA to Binays: Refund P2.29B used for Makati parking building)
“2. NGO observer sa lahat ng mga proseo ng BAC.” (An observer from a non-governmental organization in all processes of the Bids and Awards Committee.)
There are many reasons why a government official or employee would keep mum if they spot irregularities in how their resident Bids and Awards Committee carries out the bidding for projects. One could be fear of retaliation. Another could be complicity.
Having an NGO in the room as bids are opened, read out, and evaluated would add a layer of transparency and deterrence to irregularity.
“3. Independent Monitoring Team”
A lot could happen behind the scenes, before, after, and even during bidding conferences for government projects. Having an “independent” set of eyes keeping tabs on every step of the process should help prevent or at least expose anomalies.
“4. Technical Working Group na may eksperto sa bawat area (with expertise in every area).”
It’s one thing to spot the lowest bidder, but how does the government make sure the contractor would deliver? How would they know if a bid is overpriced or unrealistically low?
Having experts onboard to do background checks on bidders, examine their proposals, and scrutinize their claims to competence would help ensure the government isn’t shortchanged or deceived.
“5. Hindi ako tatanggap ng kickback.” (I won’t accept kickbacks.)
Of course, it all begins at the top. Ultimately, it is the chief executive who sets the bureaucracy’s culture, and who could pull strings to their own advantage if they wanted to.
It’s also the top executive who can crack the whip if they have the moral leverage to wield it.
On August 18, Sotto laughed off a rumor going around on social media that he was benefitting from an anomalous garbage collection contract. He called it “fake news” from his political opponents, on whom he turned the tables, daring them to an ungkatan or reckoning.
“Wala akong pakialam kung may magalit. Tatalikuran natin ang mga maling kalakaran at gagawin ang naaayon lamang sa batas,” he said in the post on Monday. (I don’t care if anyone gets offended. We will turn away from wrong practices and do only what is according to the law.)
“Ang pondong matitipid natin sa mas mababang presyo ng mga kagamitan at serbisyo ay babalik sa taumbayan bilang karagdagang gamot at scholarship,” Sotto added. (The funds we would save through lower prices of supplies and services will return to the people as additional medicines and scholarships.)
Sotto made this pronouncement 3 days after the Commission on Elections Second Division dismissed the election protest by former Pasig mayor Bobby Eusebio, who lost to Sotto in the May 13, 2019, by more than 87,000 votes. – Rappler.com
JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.