FOR a regulatory agency, the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) seems given to secrecy, even when it is now bidding the biggest project of its 131-year existence.
Since the afternoon of July 8, the deadline set by the MWSS for counter-bids for its multibillion-peso Laiban dam project, the PCIJ has been calling up and moving mail to the MWSS officials and Selection Committee members to get an update on the tender. As of press time, the MWSS has made no official response, while those authorized to speak on the matter were unavailable.
The committee chairman, MWSS Deputy Administrator Isaias Bongar, was said to be on sick leave. His boss, MWSS Administrator Diosdado Jose Allado, was also supposedly on leave. Allado has, in fact, not responded to any of the PCIJ’s requests for interview for over a month now.
Allado’s staff advised PCIJ to contact MWSS Senior Deputy Administrator Macra Cruz. PCIJ called Cruz’s office at about 11:15 a.m. Friday, but was told she had yet to arrive.
On July 9, the PCIJ sent a letter to Allado by mail and fax to get an update on the tender. But with Allado on leave, his staff decided to forward the letter to Cruz – who forwarded it to the supposedly indisposed Bongar. Cruz said she has no authority to speak on Laiban dam’s tender because Bongar is in charge as Selection Committee chair.
Interestingly, MWSS’s notice of invitation for rival bids to San Miguel Corporation’s unsolicited proposal for the Laiban dam project had been buried in the inside pages of just one newspaper. The notice said that interested parties should submit a letter of intent and buy tender documents worth P1 million by July 8, or last Wednesday, or a mere five working days after the ad ran.
When PCIJ checked the agency’s official website (www.mwss.gov.ph) on the morning of July 3, the invitation had yet to be posted there. But on Sunday, July 5, it suddenly appeared online with this notice: “Date Posted: July 1, 2009.”
A PCIJ check with content servers, however, showed that the notice was posted on the MWSS website only on July 2 GMT (Greenwich Mean Time), which is about afternoon of July 3 in the Philippines.
Under the new guidelines and procedures on joint venture agreements between government and private entities issued by the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) in April 2008, the invitation to apply for eligibility and to submit a proposal must be advertised in a newspaper of general nationwide circulation, and posted continuously for a period of seven days, starting on the date of advertisement on all these platforms: the website of the government entity concerned, if available; the website of the government entity’s service provider, if any; and any conspicuous place within the premises of the procuring entity.
The Guidelines further state that private sector participants shall be given at least 30 days from the last date of publication of the invitation to apply for eligibility and to submit a proposal. But they also say, “Notwithstanding, the Government Entity concerned may adjust said period as may be appropriate for the nature, scope, size, and complexity of the proposed JV activity. Provided, that the principles of transparency, competition and accountability are observed.”
While the NEDA’s new rules are clear and facile, it certainly seems like transparency in the tender of Laiban dam does not rank high among MWSS’s priorities. But then MWSS’s reluctance to share information with media is not really new to PCIJ.
In 2007, the PCIJ launched a six-month review of official documents covering 71 projects funded with Official Development Assistance (ODA) from various bilateral and multilateral donor agencies. The MWSS was among the government agencies queried by PCIJ for documents. PCIJ asked from MWSS various papers pertaining to the Angat Water Utilization and Aqueduct Improvement Project and, yes, the Laiban dam venture.
Then MWSS administrator Lorenzo H. Jamora denied the PCIJ’s request saying, “the implementation of the said projects is part of the ongoing top-level discussion between MWSS Management and its Concessionaires” and that “all documents thereto are still subject to further review and study by the Steering Committee on New Water Resources.”
Still, the MWSS gave PCIJ permission to make copies of the executive summaries of the two projects. But when PCIJ showed up at the MWSS doorstep to do so, Jamora’s staff said their boss had changed his mind. It was only after PCIJ sent more letters and made more phone calls that the MWSS released the documents – more than a month later.
In total, to secure the MWSS documents on the two projects, PCIJ made 12 phone calls, sent three letters, and dealt with three referrals, in a span of 29 working days.
Yet given MWSS’s recent efforts to seemingly shroud its joint-venture deal with San Miguel, PCIJ can only consider it lucky that it already had some material on the Laiban dam project. – PCIJ, July 2009