ICT scams: Corruption in the supposed digital age

Have you heard of that computer scam in the making during the election campaign period in April last year? Yes, that was about the bungled acquisition in Albay of Department of Education’s 600 computer units for the price of P150M, or P250,000 per unit. Not too expensive, right?

Thanks to media’s early discovery of this irregularity, the supposed bidding process was pre-empted and therefore botched. (Whatever happened to the P150M then? That’s a question worth more than P150M.)

Had the “acquisition” pushed through, the money would have gone to the “right” hands. And that would have complemented the fertilizer and hybrid-rice scams in the same period.

Later, this year, another scam, this time double-whammy, has hugged the headlines. And we’re not speaking of millions of pesos here, but millions of dollars. First, the $329-million contract between the Philippine government and Chinese corporation ZTE for the installation of a national broadband network connecting all government agencies. From this project, according to the DOTC, government can save P2.51 billion (annually?) compared to the present cost of all telecommunications amounting to P3.5 billion.

In addition, there’s also the $460-million contract again with ZTE for a cyber-education program, which according to inquirer.net’s report, aims “to set up television production and satellite broadcasting facilities at DepEd’s central office and satellite-based facilities in 26,618 schools nationwide, each of which will be provided with a multimedia classroom equipped with four television sets, two desktop computers and a printer. Fifteen- to 20-minute lectures conducted by education experts in all subjects for all grade or year levels will be aired live via satellite to all schools on 12 television channels.”

As ever, the government is currently subjected to public and later legal scrutiny for its alleged violation of anti-graft law and government procurement reform act. For the first, the violation was that government inked a deal during an election period. (The $329-million contract was signed on April 21, 2007 by DOTC Secretary Leandro Mendoza and Yu Yong, ZTE vice president, in ceremonies witnessed by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in Boao, China.)

For the second, the violation was that the project did not undergo the tedious bidding process. Despite the two other NBN proposals that offered much lower cost, government still chose that of ZTE allegedly because of huge commission promised by the ZTE to the officials that worked for the deal.

Experts from UP and civil society organizations fear that these two projects will just become white elephants. They said that government does not have the capacity to run such ambitious projects. In the first place, they are not necessary.

So, there. Corruption in this supposed digital age. And it seems to mean that, unless corruption is nipped in the bud, the digital divide is here to stay.

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