With less than four months left in his term, PNoy no longer has any business bidding out public-private partnership (PPP) projects. He had six years to do it. Soliciting bids for infrastructure projects in the last two minutes of PNoy’s presidency smacks of a “midnight deal” from which outgoing officials of his administration can extract a “pabaon” should immediately cancel, if not suspend and review, any PPP bidding or contract done between now and June 30, 2016.
The newly-appointed executive director of the PPP Center, lawyer Andre Palacios, announced last week that the Aquino administration is still planning to auction off some $6.5 billion (or P312-billion) worth of projects before PNoy bows out at the end of June, the biggest of which is the P128-billion Laguna Lakeshore road and dike project.
“We are gift wrapping these projects for the next administration so they can hit the ground running,” Palacios said during an interview. We wonder who’s really getting the gift. Hmmm.
Isn’t Palacios being too presumptuous? Who said the next President wants to pursue the same projects? PNoy should not unfairly tie down the hands of his successor as to what infrastructure projects he or she will be implementing.
Besides, the projects still to be auctioned off by the PPP Center are not nickel-and-dime deals. It’s always highly questionable when public officials are too eager to close billion-peso projects at the twilight of their term. And why the undue haste, especially when all the legal requirements for the deal cannot be completed during PNoy’s term?
Even if the next administration pursues the same project, conducting the bidding at this late stage is counterproductive because it will only open the project to legal challenges. Worse, Filipino taxpayers usually end up paying for projects suspended or discontinued by the succeeding administration.
Case in point is the Northrail project entered into by PNoy’s perceived arch-nemesis, ex-president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA). Within the first year of his presidency, PNoy scrapped the planned 80-kilometer railroad from Caloocan to Clark, Pampanga, amid corruption allegations.
At the height of our territorial dispute with China a few months later, the Chinese government demanded that the country immediately pay back the $185-million loan for the Northrail project. In the end, PNoy agreed to pay back every centavo to China’s Export-Import Bank – with interest. This is on top of another $50-million owed to private creditors, which Filipino taxpayers also had to shoulder.
It’s also quite baffling that PNoy wants to bid out more projects when he failed to implement his much ballyhooed PPP program.
We remember that during his first SONA, PNoy declared: “There is a need to fast-track the implementation of the Public-Private Partnership programs and projects as a cornerstone strategy of the national development to accelerate the infrastructure development of the country and sustain economic growth.”
Five years later, even his political ally, Senator Serge Osmeña, criticized PNoy for the very slow progress in PPP projects. The astute senator said if PNoy’s performance will be given a report card, all of his grades will be very low due to severe under-performance, especially when it comes to PPP implementation. “The much-touted PPP flagship projects that Aquino boasted would bring in significant economic gains has not produced even a single result,” the senator added.
Osmeña knows whereof he speaks. Of the 12 projects worth P200.48 billion awarded by PNoy, only three PPP projects have been completed to date. These are the Department of Public Works and Highways’ Muntinlupa-Cavite Expressway (MCX) or Daang Hari-SLEX Link Road, the Automatic Fare Collection System of the Department of Transportation and Communications, and the first phase of the Department of Education’s School Infrastructure Project.
Meanwhile, some of the remaining projects have been cancelled or hit by delays. For instance, the modernization of the Philippine Orthopedic Center was indefinitely shelved after winning bidder Megawide terminated the deal when the Department of Health failed to deliver the land owned by the National Kidney and Transplant Institute (NKTI) for the PPP project for more than a year.
The second phase of the 5.4-kilometer NAIA Expressway project, which was supposed to be completed before PNoy steps down in June, will only be finished in November 2016.
We likewise find it hypocritical that PNoy has repeatedly condemned GMA for entering into “midnight deals” when he intends to do exactly the same thing by awarding multi-billion-peso contracts a few months before leaving office.
We recall that then-presidential candidate PNoy blasted GMA’s alleged “midnight deal” on the campaign trail after reports surfaced that her administration made a last-minute transaction to buy combat utility helicopters from Poland for P2.8 billion. Or what about the P18.7 billion Laguna Lake rehabilitation project scrapped by PNoy soon after he took office for supposedly being another “midnight deal” of GMA because it was approved in February 2010, a mere three months before the presidential elections?
So if it was wrong then, why should it be okay now during PNoy’s watch?
Daang matuwid? Pwe!!