AS THE controversy over the alleged rigging of foreign-funded road contracts worsens, World Bank country president Bert Hofman has made an admission that the bank lacks evidence to prove that local and foreign contractors have colluded with one another during the bidding for these infrastructure projects.
Hofman made the revelation to Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago in a letter dated Feb. 13.
According to Santiago, Hofman had said that the nine-page referral report that the Bank sent to the Finance Department and the Office of the Ombudsman did not say they were sure if a crime or violation of law had been committed by the Filipino construction firms that the Bank had investigated.
“The World Bank admitted that they have no evidence that there was collusion [among the contractors] that were blacklisted. And much less do they have evidence against those who were implicated,” Santiago said on radio.
Hofman sent the letter to Santiago, chairman of the committee on economic affairs, a day after its members decided, upon the motion of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, to subpoena the bank official for ignoring the Senate’s invitation to its public hearing on the case.
Santiago said World Bank officials had said they were not sure of the involvement of certain personalities whose names were dragged into the controversy—such as First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo, former Public Works Secretary Florante Soriquez and three former congressmen.
“What is puzzling is if they are not sure [of the involvement of these people], why is the [WB] report, that was supposed to be confidential, appearing in the Internet?”
Santiago said the report and other documents on the alleged irregularity may have found their way into the Internet either because the Bank itself leaked them or these were stolen by some people.
The World Bank concluded it was more likely than not that there was collusion without the benefit of solid evidence that would stand in court. “It did not say we found the respondents guilty.”
According to Santiago, the bank’s Sanctions Board issued a separate decision on the cases of the different contractors that it investigated. Despite the insufficiency of evidence, the Bank decided to blacklist three Filipino contractors—E.C. de Luna, Cavite Ideal International Consruction and Development Corp. and C.M. Pancho Construction.
A copy of the decision of the Sanctions Board, dated Jan. l2, and obtained by Standard Today says:
“Based on the consideration of the record in the case, the Sanctions Board concluded with respect to respondents E.C. de Luna and Mr. Eduardo C. de Luna that is was more likely than not that these respondents had engaged in collusive practices in connection with the World Bank-financed NRIMP [National Road Improvement Project]. In reaction to this conclusion, the Sanctions Board considered as compelling the statement of certain confidential and non-confidential witnesses.
“However the Sanctions Board also concluded that the evidence did not establish that it was more likely than not that the respondents had engaged in fraudulent practices separate from the collusion. In addition, the Sanctions Board concluded that the INT [Institutional Integrity Office] had not presented evidence sufficient to establish that is was more likely than not that these Respondents had engaged in corrupt practices.”
In a related development, Santiago lashed back at Senator Panfilo Lacson for [insinuating that the Feb. l2] hearing on the issue was “orchestrated” to favor administration personalities implicated in the scandal.
Santiago said Lacson had no business dictating to her what to do, specially since he was not a lawyer familiar with the legal aspects of the case at hand.
“It does not look good that you are criticizing a fellow senator that way. It creates the bad impression that we in the Senate are divided. We must accord due courtesy to each other.”
Santiago was also irked by Lacson’s criticism of her decision, as chairman of the committee on economic affairs, to terminate the hearing by l2:30 p.m. or after only three hours.
The problem with Lacson was that he was saying those things behind her back and not during the hearing or when the Senate was in plenary session, she said.
“If he doesn’t want the way I am handling the investigation, he should say it directly to me. Perhaps he can deliver a privilege speech and we will debate on the floor.”
Santiago said Lacson should blame himself because he left midway through the hearing to attend to a public speaking engagement. She chided him for giving more importance to the speaking engagement than to the hearing, which was called to shed light on claims that First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo and other administration personalities were involved in the alleged manipulation of the bidding of the road projects. Fel V. Maragay with Joel Zurbano, Manila Standard Today