The Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) will review the bidding terms for the deal to expand capacity at the Metro Rail Transit Line 3 (MRT-3) amid allegations that the head of the MRT-3 and others tried to extort money from Czech train manufacturer Inekon Group last year.
Transportation Secretary Joseph Abaya said the recent allegations made by Czech Ambassador Josef Rychtar called for a reexamination of the terms of reference (TOR) of the deal.
“It is incumbent upon me to check that the TOR wasn’t rigged in favor of the current bidder being post-qualified,” Abaya said in a text message. He noted that any irregularity would trigger a rebid and delay the target delivery of the new trains by May 2016.
The P3.77-billion contract, aimed at adding 48 train cars to MRT-3’s existing 73-car fleet to address passenger congestion, was auctioned off on June 11. The MRT-3 is the mass rail system along Edsa.
A state-owned Chinese firm, Dalian Locomotive & Rolling Stock Co. CNR Group, which bid P3.76 billion, is now under “post-qualification” after meeting all eligibility requirements.
Another Chinese firm, CSR Zhuzhou Electric Locomotive Co. Ltd., was disqualified while three other groups, including Inekon and Japan’s Sumitomo Corp., did not submit bids at all, the DOTC had said.
“I really hope we don’t find anything because it will push back delivery again,” Abaya said.
He said he was “confident” that the terms were fair in the way these were crafted. “I just want to double-check because it can really get technical.”
Asked about which aspects of the TOR needed to be reviewed, Abaya said the department would “have to check.”
The review comes as the DOTC said it was investigating several individuals, including MRT-3 general manager Al Vitangcol III, who allegedly sought $30 million from Inekon to guarantee that the Czech firm would bag the MRT-3 deal. Vitangcol has denied repeatedly the allegation.
Abaya said in the text message that he was set to meet with Vitangcol on Monday, in response to a query related to the DOTC’s investigation. Both he and Vitangcol had called for the meeting, the secretary said.
The extortion allegations, which have been circulating as rumors over the past few weeks and in some versions implicated President Aquino’s sister Maria Elena “Ballsy” Aquino-Cruz, were brought to the fore anew by Rychtar last week.
It was reported that Ballsy and her husband, Eldon, went to Prague in 2011 for a social visit upon Rychtar’s invitation and met with Czech businessmen there.
Abaya issued a statement on Friday, denying that Inekon had been placed on a so-called blacklist from bidding for the MRT-3 deal, contrary to reports citing Rychtar.
It was in this statement that Abaya confirmed that the investigation of the extortion allegations had begun.
Rychtar has yet to respond to an Inquirer request seeking his comment. Abaya, meanwhile, defended DOTC efforts to increase transparency in its bidding process.
The DOTC is a key agency in implementing the Aquino administration’s public-private partnership (PPP) program, although the slow roll-out of projects has been the target of criticism from the private sector.
So far, only three projects out of dozens have been awarded by the government, which announced the PPP program three years ago.
“I don’t think this issue has affected reforms and projects in the department,” Abaya said. “We remain focused on pushing the projects out and putting in reforms.”