, NOVEMBER 27, 2007 (STAR) By Paolo Romero - President Arroyo has ordered a multi-sectoral review of a $232 million rural road project whose implementation was earlier suspended by the World Bank (WB) following reports of possible irregularities in the first phase of the project.

Mrs. Arroyo’s order was released as several Cabinet men and WB officials snubbed yesterday’s Senate hearing on the circumstances leading to the deferment of the loan.

Mrs. Arroyo issued Administrative Order No. 210 on Nov. 22, the same day WB officials arrived in Manila and explained why the bank was withholding its $232 million loan package of the National Roads Improvement and Management Program (NRIMP).

Officials said one-tenth of the first phase of the project, amounting to $33 million, was canceled in 2006 due to failed biddings in three road contracts and these were reportedly the subject of the probe by the WB’s integrity team.

Public Works Secretary Hermogenes Ebdane earlier said he canceled the contracts since they were too expensive.

In her order, Mrs. Arroyo said the Pro-Performance System (PPS) and the Procurement Transparency Group (PTG) “shall review road projects covered by the suspended World Bank loan, for report to the President.”

The PPS is chaired by Presidential Management Staff chief Secretary Cerge Remonde while the PTG is headed by Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr. Both bodies have representatives from the local governments, private sector, academe, media and religious groups.

Mrs. Arroyo directed the PPS and the National Economic and Development Authority to undertake regular consultations with the WB and other foreign funding agencies “to minimize, uncover and address anomalies in foreign-funded projects.”

The PTG shall submit a detailed plan for the deployment of civil society observers in the bids and awards committees in government agencies handling projects worth P100 million and more.

She also ordered the Presidential Anti-Graft Commission to report on the suspended road projects and consult the WB and other funding agencies on other possible anomalies to investigate.

The Government Procurement Policy Board shall review regulations, systems and procedures for Official Development Assistance and government-to-government projects, and recommend integrity and transparency reforms, Mrs. Arroyo said.

Meanwhile, some of the Cabinet men and WB officials who were a no-show at yesterday’s Senate hearing turned up at the plenary session where the senators discussed the proposed 2008 budget.

They were Finance Secretary Margarito Teves and Budget Secretary Andaya.

In one letter sent to the Senate, Teves, Andaya, Ebdane, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo, Remonde and NEDA Director General Augusto Santos said “some of us were busy over the weekend monitoring and mobilizing preparatory measures to minimize the disastrous effects of typhoon Mina.”

They also said they received the invitation only last Friday and could not attend due to lack of material time, but promised to attend in the coming hearings.

Loren Legarda, chairperson of the Senate committee on economic affairs, said she deplored the reasons given to them by the officials.

Legarda also noted that NEDA Director for Project Monitoring Roderick Planta was ready to attend the hearing with the necessary documents but was prevented by the Palace for lack of clearance.

WB officials, for their part, said any member of their staff could not appear in congressional investigations. As such, they cannot even write to the Senate to acknowledge receipt of the Senate committee’s invitation.

Legarda said they would resume the hearings after the deliberations on the budget were finished. – With Aurea Calica

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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