Gov’t plan to revive NBN project gets support from lawmakers
Lawmakers on Friday backed a plan of the Aquino administration to set up a National Broadband Network (NBN) but urged full transparency in the bidding to avoid a repeat of the scandal-tainted project under the Arroyo administration.
“I think a nationwide broadband network would be a worthwhile undertaking. The only issue really is cost, especially given past experience,” Aurora Representative Juan Edgardo Angara said in a text message. “With big projects like this, it is probably best to bid it out.”
Eastern Samar Representative Ben Evardone said the NBN project had always been a “worthwhile” project since it would provide a fast, broadband connection with all government agencies and public schools.
Evardone said that being a reform-minded administration wary of entering into one-sided deals with private suppliers, the current leadership was well positioned to undertake the project.
“Under P-Noy (Aquino), I think it can be revived and the controversial issues will be addressed properly,” Evardone.
Ako Bicol party-list Representative Rodel Batocabe said the present administration’s commitment to full transparency in all projects should address all concerns that led to the scrapping of the $329-million NBN deal with China’s ZTE Corp.
“We should reconfigure the terms of reference to the advantage of the government,” Batocabe said, noting that the ZTE project’s price became bloated due to alleged kickbacks that went to influential government officials.
Batocabe said the government should also implement with full transparency its plan to rebid the North Luzon Railways (NorthRail) project and open it to all bidders, not only Chinese suppliers.
“We should consider not only Chinese investors for China is not the world and it has no monopoly of competitive, highly advantageous and technologically advanced proposals,” Batocabe said.
Just like the NBN-ZTE deal, the NorthRail project has been hounded by controversy as critics claimed it was overpriced and designed well below the required specifications.
But while the NBN-ZTE was shelved, the government has already started paying for the Chinese loans used to bankroll the NorthRail project, reportedly already forking out a total of $100 million.
The scuttled NBN-ZTE deal was one of the biggest scandals to rock the Arroyo administration, eventually leading to the filing of graft charges in the Sandiganbayan against former Commission on Elections (Comelec) chair Benjamin Abalos and former Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Romulo Neri.
Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has also been charged with graft in the Department of Justice.
All of them have denied any wrongdoing.
The project called for the installation of a telecommunications network linking government offices throughout the country.
The deal was allegedly overpriced by about $130 million to cover supposed bribes.
In a 2007 Senate hearing, one of the losing bidders, businessman Jose de Venecia III, claimed that then First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo intervened to get the ZTE deal approved, a charge the latter denied.
De Venecia also claimed that Abalos brokered the deal and that the latter supposedly offered him $10 million to back off from the project.
Neri also told the Senate that Abalos offered him P200 million to approve the project.
Also testifying at the Senate in 2008, government consultant Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada Jr. alleged that Abalos stood to gain a commission of $130 million from the deal.
Abalos denied all accusations against him.
The NBN-ZTE deal triggered at least two impeachment complaints against ex-President Arroyo but the House of Representatives threw them out. With a report from Inquirer Research
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