MANILA, DECEMBER 1, 2003 (STAR) Red tape had caused a P9.2 billion six-airport modernization project to go to "waste," and two donor agencies to fine the government P138 million, a congressman said yesterday.

The Third Airports Development Project, launched in November 1998, was meant to upgrade to world-class standards the airports in the cities of Puerto Princesa, Cotabato, Dipolog, Butuan and Pagadian, and Sanga Sanga in Tawi-Tawi.

Palawan Rep. Abraham Mitra said the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the European Investment Bank (EIB), the financiers, had issued a stop-disbursement order after the government failed to start work on the project on time.

"Not a single pail of cement was ever poured on a single meter of runway, and not even a single waiting shed was built for passengers," he said.

Once the project was completed, the six airports would have had longer runways, refurbished passenger terminals, and new navigational equipment, he added.

Mitra said the ADB had granted the government a "concessional loan" of $92 million in addition to the EIBís contribution of 25 million euros.

The remainder of the total cost of $16 million or P9.185 billion was supposed to have been funded by the government, he added.

However, Mitra said the project posted in August an "anemic overall completion level of less than 20 percent" five years after the ADB and EIB had given the green light to begin work.

The airport project would have been implemented by the Department of Transportation and Communications, he added.

Mitra said the expropriation of lands for the extended runways had "hit a snag," with some cases ending in litigation.

"Contracts for civil works were hobbled by the usual disease that strikes local infrastructure projects like complaints by losers and allegations of bribery," he said.

Mitra said drawdowns from loans proceeded at a "snailís pace" that only $11.95 million or 12.85 percent of the total ADB loan was disbursed.

"This is not the case of the government having more than it could chew as this is not a case of absorptive capacity," he said.

"We can only invoke that excuse if the government (is) implementing many infrastructure projects at the same time, but it is not."

The EIB loan had expired on Nov. 30, 2002, and that from the ADB was deemed canceled last May 31, he added. ó Paolo Romero

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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