EDITORIAL

Ex-officials behind MRT mess should be charged

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NEWS that 48 Chinese-made coaches for the Metro Rail Transit 3 line are utterly useless is infuriating at the very least.

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It’s a tremendous waste of taxpayers’ money – P526 million – on what was supposed to be the solution to the daily sufferings of Metro Manila commuters. The trains would have been operational by mid-2017 and there would have been a longer four-coach configuration to accommodate more passengers.

On Tuesday, however, Sen. Grace Poe bared that all 48 trains from supplier Dalian Corp. weighed close to 49,000 kilograms each, way above the required 46,300 kg under the terms.

This means the Chinese coaches already exceed the prescribed weight without taking in passengers. Imagine the tremendous pressure these coaches could place on MRT-3’s dilapidated rails.

That is not all, however. Out of the 48 coaches delivered, only 29 have the signalling system needed to keep the MRT-3 system running smoothly.

Poe earlier called out the MRT-3 maintenance provider, Busan Universal Rail Inc., or BURI, for non-performance of its obligation to ensure the system’s safety and procure parts from the original equipment manufacturer.

To recall, BURI was found to have procured the train’s automatic protection system from an auto shop in Bangkal, Makati, identified as Diamond Pearl Development and Marketing Corp. One does not have to be an engineer to realize that something is terribly wrong with the BURI deal. The almost daily hitches at the train system, despite P54.5 million in monthly payments to the maintenance firm, are proof.

That the coaches are overweight raises suspicion. Any thinking person will realize that these will damage the rails; unless the objective really is to force the government to tender yet another lucrative contract to replace the tracks.

Indeed, those responsible for this BURI deal – officials of the Department of Transportation during the Aquino administration – have made, as Poe said, a “mockery of the ordeals of the riding public in the guise of MRT’s well-publicized capacity expansion.”

The Transport department said last month it was considering returning the incompatible coaches to China. Singapore, it should be noted, did this in 2016, when it shipped back 22 coaches to a different Chinese manufacturer because of defects.

There could be grounds for canceling the entire P3.8-billion order and suing all those responsible in court. The government should also seriously study the option of terminating BURI’s contract for non-performance of its contractual obligations.

Any new contract for the MRT-3 rehabilitation, whether through open bidding or a negotiated deal, should be transparent to avoid a repeat of this nightmare.

The MRT mess cannot be a crime without a suspect, considering that the victims – the suffering commuters – are in the millions.

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