MANILA, Philippines – The key to making sure that road funds are not being spent elsewhere is to elect leaders who are not corrupt, according to Commission on Audit (COA) chairperson Michael Aguinaldo.
“It is important to have a regime where the leader is not corrupt, and most importantly, is perceived not to be corrupt,” the state auditing chairperson recently emphasized on Rappler Talk. (WATCH: Can you insulate road projects from politics? #OpenRoads)
On May 9, Filipinos will be electing over 80,000 leaders to national and local posts, many of whom will eventually manage or improve road networks.
Local government-managed roads, which are mostly unpaved, constitute about 85% of the Philippine road network.
Poor infra and politics
Infrastructure in the Philippines remains “poor” compared to most countries ranked in the 2015-2016 Global Competitiveness Report by the World Economic Forum.
Of the 140 countries featured in the report, the Philippines ranked 90th in terms of overall infrastructure. More specifically, the Philippines is 97th among countries on the quality of road infrastructure, 10 notches down from the 2014-2015 report.
According to Aguinaldo, the sorry state of roads in the country can be traced back from some decades ago when kickbacks from road funds ate up 40% of the allotment.
“You can imagine the quality of roads there. You spend 60% of it, accounting the profit of the contractor, they might have spent about only 40% of the actual budget for that road,” he said.
To make matters worse, the COA chairperson also acknowledged that there are ghost projects.
“Considering our geography, it’s very difficult to check sometimes. In some places, there are no roads.”
However, Aguinaldo claimed that corruption has been reduced under the Aquino administration.
“When you have a regime that focuses on transparency, there’s a tendency for those who are corrupt to be a bit more cautious,” Aguinaldo said.
He said that promoting transparency within the government encourages leaders to “set things right and not steal anymore.”
For Kaiser, the public and the local government should collaborate in setting expectations for road projects.
“It needs to be about local government and local citizens taking charge and setting the expectations of what a good road is,” the senior economist said.
Currently, the Aquino administration enforced programs from which LGUs and civil society organizations can propose road projects to be funded by the national budget.
These may be through Bottom-up Budgeting (BUB) or Konkreto at Ayos na Lansangan at Daan Tungo sa Pangkalahatang Kaunlaran (KALSADA).
For 2016, BUB will be funding 2,027 road projects nationwide, amounting to P5.55 billion of its P24.7-billion allocation in the national budget. Likewise, KALSADA has been allocated P6.5 billion for provincial roads rehabilitation.
However, according to DILG Planning Development Services Director Rolyn Zambales, the DILG does not easily give away money for these road projects.
“One condition is making sure that they are able to upload information on those roads (on the OpenRoads portal). There are other conditions that will really encourage LGUs to perform better.”
Local governments that want to avail of these funds have to be awarded DILG’s Good Financial Housekeeping, one of the components of the Seal of Good Governance.
Zambales added that apart from empowering local governments with funds, there is also a need to address issues in capacity.
For instance, according to Zambales, leaders at the local level should have appropriate planning tools.
“First, we address the planning issue and second, (come up) with more accurate data that will serve as basis in planning,” she said.
Zambales said trainings are offered by the DILG at the Local Government Academy to newly–elected officials.
For roads, she said, the academy can teach them what facilities and opportunities are available for roads to make their priorities clear. (READ: Roads, poverty, and the 2016 elections)
Data, technology, and ‘Open Roads’
Meanwhile, to make sure that funds for roads are spent more effectively, World Bank Senior Economist Kai Kaiser said that using technology – like geotagging – in mapping road projects, can help find out whether the projects are be
Through the OpenRoads portal, the public can check online which roads have been selected for rehabilitation or upgrading and track the progress of the road project from start to completion.
The portal contains the uploaded provincial road network maps, as well as other road projects. Soon, videos of the conditions of priority roads before, during, and after the implementation of KALSADA will also be uploaded.
COA is working with World Bank to improve capacity on geotagging. Aguinaldo said that anyone can monitor projects that are being built real-time through social media and the Internet.
“You can invite people to send pictures while it is being done. Then you now can invite the people to comment. If the agency feels that this is a legitimate concern, then the agency can bring it to the contractor concerned to explain.”
The COA chairperson explained that there are two kinds of road projects: completed or being built. He said that their intention is to cover both.
“It doesn’t cost us anything to take that picture and upload it.” – Rappler.com