Czech Ambassador to the Philippines Josef Rychtar had claimed irregularities in the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) supply contract but lobbied for Czech companies at the same time, a Cabinet official said on Monday.
Transportation and Communications Secretary Joseph Abaya made the disclosure during the hearing of the DOTC’s P46 billion proposed budget for 2014 before the House Appropriations panel.
Abaya, however, failed to mention that what the Czech envoy did is no different from what any ambassador of any country does as part of his or her job – to “sell” their best products and services to the host country.
Every Philippine ambassador, for example, is expected to sell the products and services of the country’s top corporations wherever they are based.
In an information provided to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), Ambassador Rychtar accused MRT General Manager Al Vitangcol of extorting $30 million from Czech-firm Inekon so that the company could bag the contract for the purchase of 48 new coaches for the MRT. Unidentified sources also linked Presidential sister Bally Cruz and her husband Eldon in the extort try, which were later disproven.
“He did not submit any complaint or affidavit. The only DOTC official he was complaining about is GM Vitangcol. He [Czech envoy] was very critical of the irregularities and was pulling in a hard sell to create some space for Czech companies.
But what we want is to encourage competitive bidding, bring the best the world can offer,” Abaya, the former Chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations, pointed out.
“What we can assure them is fair bidding,” Abaya added.
Abaya, who also serves as the acting president of the ruling Liberal Party, then clarified that Rychtar only complained of Vitangcol by accusing the MRT General Manager of pushing for a joint venture for the MRT project with a firm owned by Vitangcol’s sister.
The DOTC is probing the alleged extortion try, but DOTC’s investigation only covers the possible administrative liability of erring DOTC officials, if any.
This is because the criminal investigation on the matter is already being conducted by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) which is under the jurisdiction of the Department of Justice (DOJ).
“He [Rychtar] was citing irregularities and having a business approach at the same time. If he came to me with clean hands, I would not mince my words on the investigation. He [Czech envoy] has a two dimensional agenda so we were also cautious of him,” Abaya said.
The controversy prompted Vitangcol to take a leave of absence pending the results of the DOTC and DOJ-NBI probe.
“We are only probing the administrative side of things. It is ongoing and we should be able to wrap it up in a week or two,”
It was Rep. Antonio Tinio of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers who quizzed Abaya about the alleged extortion to the tune of $30 million.
“It is important for the public to know those behind the government contracts, including private individuals, because this is about public interest. Those responsible should be liable, regardless if they are close to the powerful such as the President,” Tinio argued.
Abaya countered that the DOTC won’t give in to such corruption, especially under his watch.
“They are free to claim any relationship [to a powerful person], but whatever kind of relationship they have is of no weight to us. You know me. I don’t tolerate irregularities,” Abaya added in closing.