, NOVEMBER 20, 2007 (STAR) Malacañang is now looking into reports of large-scale corruption in government road projects, which prompted the World Bank to hold off a $232-million loan to the country.

Presidential Management Staff director general Cerge Remonde, who heads the newly-created Pro-Performance Team, said that he has gotten in touch with Finance Secretary Margarito Teves and Public Works Secretary Hermogenes Ebdane Jr. to discuss the development.

Remonde said the creation of the Pro-Performance team, composed of representatives from the private sector such as business, media, religious, youth and the academe, would ensure transparency and efficiency of road and other infrastructure projects.

“The group has started working. In fact, each member of the steering committee has his individual set of projects to monitor to ensure focus,” he added.

President Arroyo created the Pro-Performance Team late September to monitor the implementation of the government’s infrastructure projects and address related problems.

Represented in the group are members of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines and the Bishops Businessmen Conference.

“This is just part of reiterating the long held policy of the President and the government of promoting transparency especially in infrastructure projects,” Remonde said in an earlier statement.

“Especially as you know, the legacy projects of the government in the last three years are all infrastructure so the President would want to ensure that all these projects will be implemented in full transparency and efficiency,” he added.

Secretary to the Cabinet Ricardo Saludo said that anti-graft and corruption agencies would be looking into the report and “act on any solid evidence of corruption.”

“The government supports all efforts to curb corruption and we have many years of cooperation with the World Bank especially in procurement reform,” Saludo said.

Mrs. Arroyo vowed recently to get tougher in her anti-corruption efforts as she prepared to “set a new standard of governance for our nation.”

“Corruption saps the lifeblood out of our political system, it must be stamped out,” the President said adding that eliminating the problem would set the stage for the country’s becoming a first world economy.

WB decision ‘a challenge’

Sen. Panfilo Lacson said the World Bank decision was not surprising but that the Arroyo administration and the public “should take it as a challenge.”

“The administration should really be awakened. After all, majority of the corruption (cases) were committed by the executive branch,” Lacson said.

“We in the Senate are doing our part by providing the necessary check and balance. But we can only do so much,” Lacson said.

“If the executive branch under Mrs. Arroyo ignores all other institutions and goes ahead with its corrupt activities, I think we deserve not only the rejection from World Bank. We deserve harsher actions from them,” he added.

The World Bank shelved the loan as it launched an inquiry into reports that the first phase of the National Road Improvement and Management Program or NRIMP was fraught with bid-rigging.

Sen. Edgardo Angara, for his part, suggested that a municipal bond market be developed in the Philippines in light of the recent World Bank report placing the country 65th among 150 countries surveyed for their capacity to ship goods to international markets.

“We’ve got to be more creative in tapping resources for our infrastructure, especially since we are lagging behind compared to our neighbors in this area,” Angara said.

In the recent WB report titled “Connecting to Compete: Trade Logistics in the Global Economy,” the Philippines lagged far behind other countries in Southeast Asia like Malaysia at 27th; Thailand, 31st and Indonesia and Vietnam at 43rd and 53rd places, respectively.

“This is one big reason why the Philippines will remain hard put expanding its export volume – the high cost of transporting goods pads the prices of our products. And when this adds to lack of access roads within and local ports between islands, an exporter indeed faces a daunting challenge,” Angara said.

“Right now, the Philippines is undertaking a P2- trillion infrastructure program, 60 percent of which will come from a combination of official development assistance and domestic revenues. But with ODAs steadily decreasing since 2000, we’ve got to find other ways to finance our infrastructure and developmental projects,” Angara said.

According to Angara, developing a municipal bond market is one untapped source of funding for developmental projects, saying it can provide access to a large pool of LGU resources.

“A municipal bond market will build the capacity of LGUs to leverage their assets, and finance more projects. Lenders ranging from financial institutions, to companies and individuals can invest in LGU bonds backed by the collateral of their Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA), which is now worth P134 billion this year,” Angara said.

“Thus, the IRA usually spent on tractors, bulldozers and waiting sheds will be more productively spent on revenue-generating projects, thereby triggering a virtuous cycle of assets begetting more assets,” Angara, chairman of the Senate committee on banks and financial institutions, said. – Marvin Sy, Aurea Calica

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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