IT does not seem at all coincidental that the disclosure of the awarding of a three-year, P3.81-billion maintenance contract for the troubled Metro Rail Transit Line 3 (MRT-3) was made during the busy holiday season, because it was just another in a now seemingly-unending string of sleazy, underhanded moves that the Aquino Administration would likely prefer the public not notice, or think about too much.
Citing an “emergency,” Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya explained that the contract for the badly-needed repair and maintenance of the MRT was awarded through a negotiated procurement because two previous attempts at conducting a proper bidding – in September of last year and January of this year – failed to attract qualified bidders. As if to reassure the public that the current deal, which involves a consortium of Korea’s Busan Transportation Corporation and several Filipino companies, is fair and aboveboard, Abaya pointed out it was approved by the NEDA, the Department of Justice, and the Government Procurement Policy Board – which only makes us wonder what choice they were given.
Abaya has pleaded ignorance to what brought the MRT and the business arrangements to its present sorry state – the unceremonious dumping of the demonstrably qualified Sumitomo Corp., the abortive attempt to award the maintenance contract to a fraudulent local company with “connections,” and a ham-fisted extortion attempt on Czech rail vehicle manufacturer Inekon – because most of those dealings took place before he took his current position at the DOTC; he just signed the papers he was presented, he has said, two weeks after he took over from former Secretary Mar Roxas, implying he was largely ignorant of what was going on behind the scenes.
That, of course, is laughable. All it explains, really, is that Abaya has been incapable of managing the DOTC from the very beginning, due either to a lack of ability, a lack of correct intentions, or because of instructions from the higher-up. Any competent manager would not put his signature on – and therefore make himself legally responsible for, a point the Ombudsman has so far conveniently overlooked – any multi-year contract with a value in the billions without satisfying himself that the deal was necessary and correctly done.
Abaya’s claim that the rush to hand out a no-bid contract was because of an “emergency” is an insult as well. Yes, the condition of the MRT can indeed be described as an “emergency,” but 11 months have passed since the second “unsuccessful bidding” in January. The “emergency” at this point is entirely Abaya’s fault, for doing nothing for nearly a year.
Wasting the people’s money and putting their safety at risk are as much forms of corruption as outright theft – the results, from the public’s point of view, are no different. We can have no confidence that the deal that we’re now all obliged to pay for is fairly priced, and in the hands of a competent and efficient service provider, because Abaya’s inaction provides no alternative but to do nothing, which is obviously out of the question.