The Philippines Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) is under fire over its free Wi-Fi in public places programme, with state auditors questioning the cost effectiveness of its arrangement with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
In a damning 2018 annual report the Commission on Audit (COA) found that rather than being a true partnership, the DICT has no control over the ‘Pipol Konek’ free Wi-Fi project. A PHP1.26 billion (about US$24.4 mln) payment DICT made to the UNDP was little more than a ‘donation’, the COA said, finding that the financial agreement between the two was wholly prepared by the UN agency.
With the terms of the agreement unable to be changed, the COA said it constitutes ‘a contract of adhesion’, with the ownership of equipment, supplies, and other property financed from the contribution becoming vested in the UNDP.
The auditors said that the Pipol Konek project was allocated PHP1.74 billion ($33.5 mln) under the 2018 national budge, with the DICT disbursing almost the entire amount to UNDP.
The state auditors said that while Republic Act No. 10929, commonly refereed to as the Free Internet Access law, allowed the DICT to establish partnerships with other organisations, it does not allow for the divestment of funds and properties.
$1.2mln service fees unnecessary
According to the COA the contract had resulted in the Philippines government paying the UNDP some PHP64.861 million ($1.2 mln) in service fees which would have been unnecessary had the department directly implemented the project. It described the arrangement as ‘not cost effective’.
According to the COA report the DICT ‘did not even take the time to show any comparison of costs and benefits, quantitatively and qualitatively, in case the project would be implemented by the department alone’.
While the audit agency acknowledged that the free Wi-Fi project faced challenges in the bidding and implementation process, it said the procurement law addressed these challenges with a provision allowing agencies to undertake early procurement activities short of awarding the contract.
However, it said that there is ‘no statement or any document submitted by the department showing that it had actually undertaken any early procurement activity for the project and the specific challenges they encountered in the process for them to be able to declare that they are not capable of doing so, much more, to amend the mode of procurement originally planned’. DICT management could also not provide documents from which the said conditions could be verified’, the report said.
Slow roll out
The COA was also critical of the free Wi-Fi project’s slow roll-out.
Up to the end of 2018 only 3,509 Pipol Konek free Wi-Fi sites had been established, far short of the 13,024 slated. As of February 20 this year the DICT reported 4,873 Wi-Fi sites had been installed, of which 2,304 were operational. The COA has instructed the DICT to submit an explanation that will prove the necessity of the agreement with the UNDP.
Feature photo DICT
- DICT public Wi-Fi program questioned (Philippine Daily Inquirer)
- CoA sniffs ‘Free WiFi’ fraud (Daily Tribune)
- COA tags DICT’s free internet access project for delays, ineffective engagement with UNDP (Manila Bulletin)
Between November 2010 and February 2012 she was a staff writer at Daylight Online, Nigeria writing on health, fashion, and relationships. From 2010 – 2017 she worked as a freelance screen writer for ‘Nollywood’, Nigeria.
She joined AEC News Today in December 2016.