By Ben Rosario
The Commission on Audit has flagged the P1.259 billion government project that tasked the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) to provide for free Wi-Fi internet access in public places.
Implemented through a financing partnership with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the DICT’s Pipol Konek-free Wi-Fi Internet Access in Public Places Project was funded out of a P1.259 billion budget released by the government in 2015.
“Financing Agreement entered into with the UNDP for the implementation of the Free Wi-Fi Internet Access in Public Places Project and transferred funds to the latter totaling P1.259 billion notwithstanding deficient documentation to prove the propriety and necessity of such agreement and procedural lapses contrary to existing laws and regulations, and thus, casted doubts on the regularity of the transactions,” COA said in the recently-released 2018 annual audit report for DICT.
“Moreover, the payment of more than P64.861 million service fees to UNDP, is deemed not cost effective and could have been avoided had the Department directly implemented the project,” the audit agency noted.
Audit records disclosed that the Philippine government tapped the UNDP in implementing the ambitious free wi-fi project.
Auditors disclosed that the DICT decided to tap the UNDP to undertake specific procurement program for the project because the latter is capable of delivering the procurement requirements of the department which lacks the capacity to undertake the specific procurement.
The Pipol Konek project seeks to implement Republic Act 10929 for the establishment of free access to internet service in public places throughout the country.
Sought to be implemented through three phases, the project was supposed to be completed last year.
Before last year’s deal with the UNDP, the DICT tapped various contractors who all agreed to observe Republic Act 9184 or the government Procurement Act as guarantee that the transactions will be above board.
It was in 2018 that the DICT engaged the UNDP as a development partner in the implementation of the Pipol Konek, with the international agency accepting the agreed budget for the contract of P1,297,223,445.99 plus service fee of P64,861,172.29.
However, the deal was not governed by RA 9184 but by the UNDP Financial Regulations and Rules.
COA questioned the deal with UNDP, saying that the DICT has failed to present empirical data that it lacked the capacity to undertake the specific procurement project.
“The deficient documentation precludes orderly audit and thorough verification of the grounds for passing unto the UNDP the implementation of a very important, huge and critical project of the government,” auditors said.
According to COA engaging the UNDP for the project is “not cost-effective” on the part of the government.
“Furthermore, the engagement of UNDP to undertake he Project tends to add another cost layer in the sense that instead of the Department directly dealing with contractors through public bidding, it will now be the UNDP who will do so at an additional five percent service fee,” state auditors stressed.