Corruption in the Philippines

[OPINION] Strengthen accountability in gov’t procurements, amend procurement law

Ken Paolo Gilo, Victoria Maglangue, Joy Aceron
[OPINION] Strengthen accountability in gov’t procurements, amend procurement law

Nico Villarete/Rappler

'The recent anomalous contracts demonstrate that transparency, participation, and accountability mechanisms in government procurement are no longer enough to stop corruption'

Amid reports of anomalous contracts in the Department of Education (DepEd) during the Duterte administration, the need for strengthened transparency, participation, and accountability in education governance and the amendment of the Government Procurement Reform Act (GPRA) has become more imperative than ever. 

Last May 1 and 2, Rappler released reports of “incidents of lost DepEd laptops [that] mirror violations of the Anti-graft and Corrupt Practices Act.” The first report shows the issues and problems surrounding the Department of Education Computerization Program, while the second report raises questions on the capacity of “tiny” logistics provider Transpac Cargo Logistics Inc. (Transpac), which bagged a P667-million contract in 2021 under the Duterte administration.

The education department under the Duterte administration seemed to have entered once again into a multi-million-peso contract with a service provider that proved incapable of fulfilling its contractual obligations, resulting in the waste of public funds badly needed to provide critical services for Filipinos.

Civil society initiative to prevent procurement anomalies

Multiply-Ed or X-Ed, a youth-led, multi-sectoral, and multi-level accountability initiative on education, has started engaging in DepEd’s procurement activities in late 2022. The goal is to help strengthen transparency and accountability in DepEd procurements. As early as 2020 at the onset of the pandemic, a citizen movement for accountability, Government Watch (G-Watch), has pointed out the vulnerabilities of COVID-19 public procurements to corruption, to underscore the need to make it more transparent, participatory, and accountable. 

The Department of Education, under the new administration, has shown relative openness to X-Ed’s monitoring of its biddings, likely to prevent another controversial procurement from happening. The first DepEd Central Office bidding attended by X-Ed observers was in early October 2022, covering the pre-bid conference of a textbook procurement. About a week before that, X-Ed trained at least 50 civil society volunteer-monitors, mostly youth leaders, in Davao City with resource persons from the Government Procurement Policy Board (GPPB), Department of Budget and Management (DBM), and key education civil society organizations to address the rollback in procurement reforms.

X-Ed has so far observed 15 bidding activities from the end of 2022 to the present, covering contracts on goods and services crucial to learning continuity and learning recovery. Thirty-three percent or 7 out of 21 target offices, including central and division offices of DepEd and local governments, responded to X-Ed’s request to monitor their procurement activities, four of which were under DepEd, with 13 of the 15 bidding activities so far observed by X-Ed being DepEd’s.

Based on its engagement of procurements, X-Ed notes that there remains critical processes and offices that are not open to monitoring and that procurement information are selectively accessible. In all of the 11 procurement items monitored, X-Ed was only able to observe until the opening of bids, and the monitors were not given any additional information regarding the awarding of contracts and implementation afterwards despite constant follow-ups.

What makes ensuring procurement accountability more challenging is that it requires extensive capacity-building and resources for civil society to conduct monitoring, given the government’s selective transparency and shifting commitments.

Renewed procurement reforms needed

The recent anomalous contracts demonstrate that transparency, participation, and accountability (TPA) mechanisms in government procurement are no longer enough to stop corruption. For one, it is “supply-dependent” or “invited spaces,” i.e., depending on whether governments would allow those TPA mechanisms to work.

The anomalous contracts involving the procurement of laptops are unfortunate, because, based on X-Ed’s monitoring covering 53 schools in 10 divisions all over the country, laptops were badly needed during distance learning and there were many students and teachers who did not have them. Seventeen percent of the student respondents, 22% of teacher respondents, and 17% of parent respondents noted lack of access to learning resources, including gadgets needed for distance learning. 

The CSO coalition in the X-Ed Project composed of Center for Youth Advocacy and Networking (CYAN), Government Watch, Student Council Alliance of the Philippines (SCAP), and Bukluran UP System, call for the urgent review and assessment of the GPRA for much-needed amendments. It is not only the transparency, participation, and accountability mechanisms in the GPRA that need to be strengthened; there is also the need to figure out how to make the procurement processes more efficient and supportive of responsive and effective governance. X-Ed emphasizes the need to revisit the procurement system, including the personnel involved, to strengthen public procurement integrity and effectiveness.

Finally, X-Ed calls on the Government Procurement Policy Board (GPPB) to reclaim its role of ascertaining that the safeguards in the public procurement system are effective in preventing corruption and in ensuring timely delivery of quality public services and goods that benefit ordinary citizens. –

Ken Paolo Gilo is chairperson of the Student Council Alliance of the Philippines (SCAP).

Victoria Maglanque is program officer of Government Watch (G-Watch).

Joy Aceron is convenor-director of G-Watch.

The three are core members of the Mutliply-Ed initiative. 

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