By Madelaine B. Miraflor
Even if President Rodrigo Duterte already said yes to the much contested importation of 250,000 metric tons (MT) of rice, delays still hound the process as the NFA Council and National Food Authority (NFA) continue to disagree on what mode of procurement should be followed.
Mercedita Sombilla, National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Director of Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Environment Staff, said on Tuesday that while the terms of reference (TOR) for the importation is already there, the Council is yet to sign it.
“We have yet to sign it because we are doing other things. What we are arguing about, which I think is in the TOR, are the changes that the NFA made. That’s the things that we wanted to look at the TOR,” Sombila said.
Asked about the changes, Sombilla hinted that NFA may not want to follow the similar guidelines used in the 2017 importation, which will have the importation done through an Open Tender scheme or Government-to-Private (G2P) for a “corrupt-free and competitive bidding process.”
“We wanted them [NFA] to follow similar guidelines in the 2017 importation. I think they want to change some things. That’s why we have not cleared anything,” Sombilla said.
To recall, NFA is for Government-to-Government (G-to-G) importation “because the process is faster, and it also enhances our diplomatic relations with the supplier nations,” according to NFA Chief Jason Aquino.
Part of the NFA Council, sources said NEDA always has the most influence when it comes to importation-related decisions.
Sombilla also said the Council doesn’t have a problem if the arrival of imported rice would be done in bulk or in staggered basis just as long as they will arrive within the lean month season.
“The arrival period for the 250,000 MT may be from May to September because the [winning] trader may not be able to do it in one go,” Sombilla said.
Based on the latest TOR, as cited by Sombilla, the NFA Council will also divide the import authority into several tranches of arrival and that a cap will be put on each lot. This is to ensure competition and fair trade.
“There will be maximum allotment for certain trader, plus [there will be] precautionary measures to avoid a repeat of the past mistakes,” Sombilla said.
“We want a more stringent review of interested traders,” she added.
NFA said last week that the non-exemption of importation to Government Procurement Law will only actually delay the arrival of imported rice.
The agency pointed out that the arrival of stocks for G-to-G importation takes about 30 days, while an open tender importation takes about 45 to 50 days notwithstanding delays. If there is failure of bidding, for example, such as when suppliers fail to comply with the legal and documentary requirements or any of the bidders does not pass the post-qualification evaluation, the process will take even longer.
“There are sectors saying that the G-to-G scheme is prone to corruption. This is unfair to those countries with Rice Trade Agreement with the Philippines because it is tantamount to accusing them with participation or connivance in an illegal act. G-to-G is transparent since it is an “open tender” involving governments. There is competition in G-to-G. There is no such thing as negotiated contract as claimed by some individuals,” Aquino further said.