MANILA, February 10, 2005 (STAR) By Des Ferriols  -  The US is requiring the Philippines to present significant improvements in fiscal management, health spending, tax administration, corruption and compliance with intellectual property rights laws before it could qualify for grant assistance under the Bush Administrationís Millennium Challenge Account (MCA).

US officials announced yesterday that the Philippines has been qualified to apply for the so-called 2005 Threshold Program under the $1-billion MCA but it has to compete with at least 15 other countries for grant assistance.

The threshold program is a step below the actual MCA assistance, designed for countries that did not qualify for the MCA but were still allowed to apply for grant assistance that would help them to eventually qualify for the MCA.

Late last year, the US announced that poor fiscal discipline and limited spending for health have disqualified the Philippines from receiving aid under the MCA.

US embassy officials disclosed, however, that the Philippines has been given until March 15, 2005 to submit a concept paper detailing how it intended to deal with the fiscal problems that disqualified the country from the 2004 list.

US counselor for economic affairs Robert Ludan told reporters yesterday that the US was "pleased with fiscal steps taken so far" but it was also expecting a more comprehensive concept paper to qualify for the threshold program.

Ludan said the program was designed to make the Philippines qualify for various grant assistance under the MCA administered by the Millennium Challenge Corp. (MCC).

The Sirens of the Lambs SPYBIZ By S.A. Maguire The Philippine Star 02/10/2005

Our traffic Eye-Spy spotted an unmarked white Ford with plate number XGS-326 cruising along Wilson Street in San Juan that had emergency police blinkers (JetSonic) prominently displayed on its roof. Spybiz had been receiving numerous complaints about private cars illegally sporting blinkers whose drivers act like road warriors edging out other vehicles by turning on their "police sirens." Civilians are getting wary because they can no longer distinguish between real and fake police. It seems that anybody can just hoist a police blinker on his car roof nowadays. The DOTC, PNP, and MMDA should silence the sirens of these police pretenders. Pronto!

Summer Wealth For The Rainy Season

Our Spy-ring reported that the happy days of this corrupt electoral official are soon coming to a close. Some concerned individuals are reportedly planning to file a complaint against him before the Office of the Ombudsman. This official, who serves in a war-torn southern province, is getting infamous not only for his corrupt practices but for his arrogance as well. According to the Spy-ring, this official made quite a scene in a well-known bank a few days after the elections because he claimed that the hefty amount he was trying to deposit was short. The official took his money back, cursing and threatening to sue. That same day, he was seen transferring his account in another bank. This official, who earned a lot of "overtime pay" last summer, really elects to have wealth stored for the rainy season.

Put Out Now, Build Later

A government agency that has been drawing flak for alleged corruption in its ranks has been coming out with a spate of press releases to project itself as a reform-minded agency. But our Ear-spies reported that this is nothing but a snowjob. While the big bosses are busy trumpeting their accomplishments on what they are doing to improve the agencyís performance, these so-called "public servants" merrily continue their bilking activities. Even the smallest of projects that are supposed to help the poor are not spared. Contractors allegedly have to cough up a minimum amount of P50,000 just to have their plans approved by this section of the said government agency. While contractors do not approve of the practice, they reportedly end up paying for fear that their papers will languish at the bottom of the pile. Well, the contractors will just have to look at the bright side. They should consider it as a pre-need plan of sorts.

Mr. Palengke Bolsters Drive vs Corrupt Public Officials

Sen. Mar Roxas announced the approval of a special new funding of P60 million for the Office of the Ombudsman, P10 million of which would be used as counterpart funds to enable the agency to avail of an extra P200 million in foreign grants for anti-corruption projects. The World Bank alone had slated $716,000 million this year to support the training of field investigators, the design and development of case tracking and monitoring software system, and a data banking system for the statements of assets, liabilities and networth (SALN) of all civil servants. Mr. Palengke is the author of several bills seeking to reinforce the Ombudsman and to reinvigorate the drive against corruption, including one which will empower it to inspect the bank deposits of all public officials and deputize private lawyers as graft investigators and prosecutors. This is a very good development, because itís about time these government officials who donít disclose their assets and their conflicts of interest are exposed and punished.

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