Sunday, January 11, 2009

OF CONSTRUCTION AND CORRUPTION

The Kalinga Apayao Religious Sector Association (KARSA) has been making waves since it began its latest foray into the realm of public accountability of government agencies – particularly the DPWH – by acting as the province’s arm of the Bantay Lansangan. The association cried out that the SONA road projects being implemented are without plans, and that the resulting constructions are defective and substandard.
Corruption, that’s the word for it – if we are to believe the KARSA allegations.
This brings us to this recent research work (De-institutionalizing Corruption in the Philippines) conducted by Dr. Eric Batalla of the De La Salle University which outlined that corruption in public road works first occurs during the prequalification, bidding, and awarding phase of contracts; which will then be followed by the second stage during project implementation.
In the first stage, corruption is based on “relationship management,” the object of which is that the contract goes to favored contractors. The awarding of contracts is often treated as a privilege, a favor, and payment of utang ng loob. Relationship management culminates in the bribe (cash or kind) in exchange for the actual award of contract or favorable consideration in the evaluation of bids.
This was boldly corroborated by columnist Neal Cruz (of the Philippine Daily Inquirer) who said in his As I See It column last October 29, 2008 that the DPWH is notorious for splitting up its road projects to accommodate favored construction contractors. Generally, it shuns the top and respected contractors because they cannot be bamboozled into greasing some dirty hands.
The second stage of corruption involves deviations from the specifications of the project contract. Often but not always, because of the unethical practices in the first stage, contractors deviate from the Program of Work approved by the DPWH. The Program of Work contains the specifications of the project including specific jobs to be undertaken, labor costs, rentals of equipment, unit cost of materials to be used (including hauling costs based on sources and destination), the contractors’ profit and the taxes to be paid. Different corrupt practices are utilized to increase the profit of the contractor at the expense of the quality of work.
Thus, we are left with projects that not only fail to meet standards, but whose awarding was dubious in the first place.
The real question here, however, is: do the SONA projects in Kalinga satisfactorily meet the pre-set standards, so far?
We do not know the yardstick being used by the KARSA. We only get to hear them saying that the projects merit a poor evaluation, as far as their inspection is concerned. On the other hand, we have yet to peruse an official report from the recent inspection conducted by the Office of the Congressman, the Kalinga Engineering District, DPWH-CAR and the Office of the DPWH Secretary.
Without doubt, the Congressman is well-meaning in his desire to pour in as many infrastructure projects as possible into the province. If his vision plays out, Kalinga roads may finally be reported as truly completed, under his leadership. The contractors, for their part, also assert that they operate according to approved specifications. This leaves us Bantay Lansangan – a World Bank-sanctioned inspector – and its eye in Kalinga – the KARSA, challenging the aforementioned offices. But as writer Jun Albano posted in the Tabuk City website: “the people of Kalinga, however, are waiting to know if the KARSA is just a lot of big talk.”
So as for the moment, whom then, shall we believe?

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