Transparency, accountability a must in foreigner-funded infrastructure projects in PH–study

Published July 7, 2021, 7:58 AM

by Ellson Quismorio

A locally-published think thank study is batting for increased transparency and accountability from government when it comes to infrastructure projects in the Philippines that have been funded by other nations, particularly China.

Professor Dindo Manhit (Photo from ADRi)

“It is the responsibility of the government to ensure transparency and accountability when it comes to transactions with other states especially for foreign investments,” Stratbase Albert del Rosario Institute (ADRi) president, professor Dindo Manhit said in a statement Wednesday, July 7.

Manhit was sounding off from the paper titled, “Chinese Investments in The Philippines: Are They Corrosive Capital?” The study was penned by professor Edwin Santiago of the De La Salle University (DLSU) Political Science Department.

Santiago said that these foreigner-funded infrastructure endeavors have become controversial “primarily due to allegations that they followed a unique way of doing things that disregarded the rule of law and characteristically lacked transparency and accountability.”

He said that one of the common issues was the severe lack of transparency in the deals and that “critical information seems to be left out deliberately to force some form of interpretation inconsistency that could eventually weaken one’s data presentation and analysis.”

“For instance, leaving out the exchange rate used in the computations will invariably lead to inconsistencies with government data—such incongruence can be used to undermine the credibility of the data,” Santiago said.

Citing the case of the Chico River Pump Irrigation Project (CRPIP), Santiago said, “Although to the government’s credit, while more information was disclosed in other projects, they were still significantly incomplete.”

According to him, there is no information as to how CAMCE [China CAMC Engineering Co., Ltd.] was selected as contractor for the CRPIP. “Even conflicting pronouncements from Cabinet members regarding the issues surrounding the selection were largely ignored and allowed to die down,” he said.

Mentioning another project, Santiago noted: “For the NCWS-KDP [New Centennial Water Source-Kaliwa Dam Project], while the negative findings from the Commission on Audit [COA] about the bidding process were publicized, no action resulting from the findings was ever disclosed.”

He further stated that the government’s claim “that the agreements have been vetted—even if true—does not necessarily mean that there is nothing wrong with them.”

“Moreover, using as defense the reason that these are standard provisions in loan agreements with China does not abandon the point that they are indeed onerous. Also, it hardly offers any explanation as to why our government officials will concede to terms that are unconstitutional at worst or burdensome at best. If at all, this raises the question as to why the Philippines would even consider loans from China,” Santiago said.

The study was featured in “Spark”, a quarterly online publication of ADRi.

“This paper is part of the institute’s advocacy partnership with International think tank Center for International Private Enterprise and a broad network of think tanks in the region to study the impact of Chinese investments on fragile economies like the Philippines,” Manhit said.