Roxas vows graft-free deals at DoTC, efficient transport systems
MANILA, Philippines—Former Senator Mar Roxas has vowed to pursue reforms, ensure that all government deals under his supervision as the secretary of transportation and communications are above board, and deliver the best results to the Filipino people.
Roxas officially assumed office on Monday and immediately formed a body that would look into “problematic” projects approved by the past administration and that are hounded by allegations of graft.
“I am very comfortable with reviewing these contracts, which have been linked to controversies,” Roxas told reporters during a briefing at the Department of Transportation and Communications (DoTC) headquarters. “If we find that that these projects are anomalous and are not in the best interest of the Filipino people, I have no problem canceling or renegotiating them.”
Among the projects to be reviewed are the Greater Maritime Access (GMA) Ports and the NorthRail projects. The DoTC, under Roxas’ predecessor Jose de Jesus, earlier recommended that both contracts be either cancelled or renegotiated to get rid of onerous provisions.
The European Chamber of Commerce earlier this week called on the government to honor these contracts, despite the reported anomalies. Scrapping the projects, the group said, would scare away potential foreign investors.
Roxas said the DoTC would file graft charges against government officials who approved projects proven to have anomalous provisions.
The new body will be one of four groups to be formed by Roxas in his reorganization of the DoTC’s structure. The new structure will be formalized through a department order to be issued this week.
The three other teams will be headed by an undersecretary. One will be for day-to-day operations of the DoTC’s attached agencies. Another will be tasked with the development of new or “greenfield” projects, and the third will develop a master plan for the long-term integration of the country’s mass transport system.
“All of our national development goals will be supported if we have a coherent public transport cost,” Roxas said.
He said having an efficient transportation system, with seamlessly linked roads, airports, seaports and train lines, would be his main goal at the DoTC.
He described the country’s transport system as “disjointed, expensive and undercapitalized.”
“For example, it’s more expensive to ship a package from Mindanao to Manila than shipping that same package from San Francisco, which is across the Pacific Ocean,” Roxas said. “That is something I wish to solve,” he said.
To achieve these goals, Roxas said he would ensure the effective implementation of new infrastructure projects under the government’s public private partnership (PPP) scheme. The PPP scheme aims to encourage the private sector to invest in infrastructure projects to make up for the lack of government resources.
“The whole objective is to offload capital expenditure to the private sector. The question is how much the government is willing to pay and how much the government will allow the private sector to make money,” he said.
Among the PPP projects to be implemented by the DoTC are the integration and privatization of operations of the Light Rail Transit (LRT) line 1 and Metro Rail Transit (MRT) train lines and the construction of several airports around the country.
For now, Roxas said he would spend the next few weeks meeting with the heads of all agencies attached to the DoTC, including Land Transportation Office (LTO) chief Virginia Torres, President Aquino’s controversial “shooting buddy” who got dragged in the ownership dispute over Stradcom Corp., which provided the information technology services for the computerized database of the LTO.
On Monday, transport group Federation of Jeepney Operators’ and Drivers’ Associations of the Philippines (Fejodap) called on Roxas to use his friendship with the President to convince the commander-in-chief to sack Torres.
“We do not dislike her on a personal level, but we are judging her based on her work,” Fejodap president Zenaida Maranan said in a press conference.
“She wants to return the LTO back to manual operations,” she said, referring to Torres’ plan to get rid of the agency’s computer systems provider Stradcom Corp. The LTO, Torres said, would return to manual operations until the contracting of a new information technology (IT) provider.
Torres has accused Stradcom of raking in excessive profits due to amendments fees that were not allowed in the company’s original contract with the LTO. Torres earlier withheld payments from Stradcom amid an ongoing intra-corporate dispute among the company’s shareholders.
Roxas declined to comment about Torres, saying that he has not studied her case carefully.
“Our top priority will be to ensure that LTO services are not compromised,” he said.
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