The National Food Authority (NFA) stressed that rice imports from Vietnam will arrive on schedule, even as it denied alleged anomalies on the recent rice bidding for the Philippines’ rice requirement.
The state grains agency issued the assurance in the wake of reports and opinion columns “creating malicious insinuations” that the 800,000 metric tons imported rice from Vietnam, which will serve as buffer stock in the lean months, may be delayed because of alleged unscrupulous activities between the cargo handler and officials of the NFA and Department of Agriculture.
According to NFA spokesman Rex Estoperez, several newspaper columns have made various allegations, such as that the appointed handler is delaying the arrival of the rice from Vietnam; the cargo handler cannot be located; the cargo handler is asking for a higher price; and that the fee for cargo handling was padded by as much as $30 per metric ton.
The NFA spokesperson, however, flatly said that none of these allegations is true.
Estoperez also charged that the plunder complaint recently filed by the Metro Manila Vendors Alliance (MMVA) against Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala and former-NFA Administrator Orlan Calayag over the rice importation deal is apparently based on mere speculations.
“For instance, the MMVA claims that the rice importation was a government-to-government transaction when in fact it was an open bidding attended by various bidders and witnessed by a cross-section of the Philippine society,” Estoperez explained.
Estoperez also clarified that the importation followed the provisions of R.A. 9148 or the Government Procurement Act, and the volumes were decided by an Inter-Agency Committee and passed through the approval process. It was done after an assessment of the country’s rice stock position showed that there had been a major reduction in security stocks due to the large, unexpected demand for rice relief after a series of major calamities including super typhoon Yolanda in late 2013.
“Certainly, this [the rice importation agreement]was made way before the appointment of Presidential Assistant on Food Security and Agricultural Modernization,” the official said. The NFA is one of the agencies which falls under the jurisdiction of the new office headed by former Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan.
Estoperez also said that the suppliers—Vietnam Northern Food Corporation I and Vietnam Southern Food Corporation II—have not made any complaints about the cargo handlers, the fees, or the contracts that had already been executed between them.
“Besides, NFA is not part of the contracting parties for the cargo handling, it’s between the supplier and cargo handler,” he added.
However, Estoperez also said that on May 8, 2014, the VINAFOOD I requested the assistance of NFA on the allegations raised, and on May 15, 2014, the contracting parties met and resolved all the issues. He also clarified that cargo handlers and import inspectorates pass through the NFA accreditation process.
On the alleged padding of the handling fee, Estoperez that the handling fee is only $30 per MT according to the contract, which makes the allegation of price padding by as much as $30 per MT totally inconceivable.
Last year’s handling contract with the same supplier was for $32 per MT. The decrease in handling fee certainly could not mean ‘padding’ in the contract price, he said.
As of June 09, more than half or 459,400 MT were already either delivered at the designated NFA warehouse or have arrived at the assigned local port, are in transit, or currently loading in Vietnamese ports. The balance of 340,600 MT or the total volume of 800,000 MT should be fully-delivered to NFA warehouses by the end of August.
Estoperez also stressed that the bidding for this latest rice importation of NFA has been very transparent.
“The decision to import and the guidelines for it were made in close coordination and cooperation with the Departments of Budget and Management, Finance, and Trade and Industry,” he explained.
The pre-bidding and the actual bidding process were witnessed by representatives of all bidders, as well as those of the embassies of Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia, various government agencies such as the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, Department of Finance, Senate and House of Representatives, the Commission on Audit, farmers and farmer organizations, civil society and the media. The proceedings were even videotaped for reference purposes, he added.
“As we repeatedly say, our office is ready to provide any interested parties with the public documents regarding this rice importation and we are open to address any inquiries for the sake of transparency,” Estoperez said.