MANILA, Philippines – The House Committee on Good Governance and Public Accountability on Tuesday recommended the filing of charges against former Deputy Secretary of the Department of Information and Communications (DICT) Eliseo Rio for alleged negligence in the implementation of the free Internet program.
In its report, the committee recommended that appropriate charges be laid against Rio for violations of the anti-corruption law and corrupt practices and of the code of conduct and ethical standards for public officials and employees regarding alleged irregularities in the process. implementation of free public Internet. Access program (FPIAP).
The committee said the partnership between DICT and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) to implement the program was “not the best option”.
Rio has been a signatory of the DICT-UNDP funding agreement.
Partnership with UNDP
According to the committee, the DICT committed inaction when it transferred the management and funds of the Pipol Konek project – which is one aspect of the FPIAP – to the UNDP.
In addition, the committee stated that DICT was at fault in entering into the funding agreement with UNDP for the implementation of FPIAP, when DICT could have resorted to procurement on its own.
For the context, in 2018, DICT and UNDP signed a funding agreement to deploy free Wi-Fi sites in selected locations for the benefit of isolated communities.
DICT did not participate in the call for tenders and the selection of suppliers and service providers to UNDP. Speedcast, an Australian company, was the successful bidder for the first two phases of the program while PLDT Inc. was the winner of the third phase.
Rio, in the commission’s report, underscored the legality of the DICT-UNDP agreement, saying it was based on the Standard Basic Assistance Agreement (SBAA) between UNDP and the Philippine government.
Citing clause 1, article II of the SBAA, Rio regretted that assistance “may be made available from UNDP to the government” upon request consisting, inter alia, of “advisory and consultancy services”, “equipment and supplies ”and“ ”any other form of assistance or execution, which may be agreed by the Government and the UNDP.
The House committee, however, said the SBAA was permissive and the DICT should have followed the law on free internet access in public places.
“The committee acknowledges the assistance provided by UNDP to the Philippine government in several of its programs. However, it should be noted that SBAA is permissive, that DICT is not obligated to request assistance from UNDP to proceed with procurement for PFIAP, ”the committee said.
The committee stated that under the Law on Free Internet Access in Public Places, the DICT should have “undertaken the creation, establishment, installation, maintenance and operation of infrastructure, equipment , systems, platforms, applications and other FPIAP requirements necessary to effectively provide free Internet access in public spaces across the country.
“Needless to say, these mandates require the active participation of the DICT to ensure that the law is implemented effectively and efficiently,” the committee said.
The committee said that by transferring the implementation of the Pipil Konek project to UNDP, including the purchase of the contractor’s services, the DICT “lost its authority over the contractor and its operation.”
Why blame me?
According to Rio, the 2019 Audit Commission (COA) report had previously flagged the DICT regarding the transfer of funds to UNDP.
Rio said they had already explained this to the COA, who were “satisfied” with their response.
“The [COA] wondered why DICT transferred this amount to UNDP and why we had not done so ourselves. We explained that being a new department, we need the expertise of the UNDP… We were able to explain it [to COA]”Rio said.
“There was no action after our explanation to the COA. There was no further action which usually takes the form of a notice of suspension or, later, a notice of disallowance. It was just an opinion that we explained well, ”he added.
Rio asked why the shortcomings of the program were blamed on him when he had already left the department in 2020. Rio nonetheless said he was ready to face the charges that will be brought against him.
The program has seen several setbacks such as Speedcast’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing, undervaluation of telecommunications equipment shipments, and problems with site selection for Wi-Fi spots.
Probe the 1.36 billion P Wi-Fi project, asked the Ombudsman
DICT calls on UNDP to reimburse unused funds from the “Free Wi-Fi Internet for All” project
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