Wednesday, September 7, 2011

NIA execs welcome house probe on alleged P6.2B ghost irrigation projects

MANILA, September 8, 2011-National Irrigation Administration (NIA) Administrator Antonio Nangel yesterday categorically denied accusations of alleged “ghost” irrigation projects in the country and said they are open to a congressional inquiry to shed light on the said issues.

“Critics’ accusations of alleged non-existent irrigation projects are at best unfounded as I welcomed an investigation into the supposed anomalous projects, particularly those in Mindanao,” Nangel said.

“With all due respect to our critics, we in NIA are transparent and we are open to any investigation. Our projects are aboveboard and can be considered as tuwid na proyektong patubig (straight irrigation projects) in line with the tuwid na daan (straight path) development agenda of President Aquino,” Nangel added.

Nangel was reacting to earlier published reports that irregularities were committed in certain irrigation projects, more specifically the Malitubog-Maridagao (Mal-Mar) Irrigation Project in Northern Cotabato and Maguindanao.

The whole project which started in 1989 after several delays is designed to irrigate 19,601 hectares of agricultural lands in the five (5) towns in Central Mindanao covering the provinces of North Cotabato, Region 12, Maguindanao and the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. It is also intended to increase rice production and household income and the living conditions in strife-torn areas in the island and benefit 6,312 farmers in 56 barangays.

Phase 2, which will be completed in five years, will be funded at a cost of P6.148 billion of which P4.656 billion will be sourced from loans from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the rest through government counterpart funding.

NIA has been asking for state funding for Phase 2 when it allegedly could not adequately explain how it spent the P405 million for Phase 1 according to news report.

The alleged anomalies prompted Party-list Representative Raymund Mendoza of the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP), Angelo Palmones of Agham and North Cotabato Reps. Jesus Sacdalan and Nancy Catamco to file House Resolution 1641 calling the House committee in agriculture to conduct an investigation into the project.

Palmones said that with the P6.2 billion for Phase 2 covering 6,117 hectares, this would cost taxpayers a whopping P1 million per hectare to irrigate.

Nangel said allegations of corruption in the project have no factual or legal basis, saying an advisory group which serves as oversight committee has been strictly monitoring it. The group is chaired by North Cotabato Governor Emmylou Talino-Mendoza and Maguindanao Governor Ismael Mangudadatu.

Nangel said claims of “ghost projects” for Phase 2 in the lower Malitubog area have no leg to stand on since several small projects covering this particular phase are now on-going among them construction of the intake, canal lining and road at the Nalapaan main canal, rehabilitation and construction of intake structure at the Chrislan Dam and construction of main diversion canal.

“There are no ghost projects to speak of because in the first place, we have on-going projects which are also being strictly monitored by our advisory group, project manager and fieldmen,” Nangel said.

Nangel said he himself could vouch for the project’s integrity because he has been conducting ocular inspections, the latest of which was only late last month. “For this reason, I would like to invite congressmen to the project site for an ocular inspection,” he said.

He said while waiting for the release of the foreign loans, NIA utilized the initial P200 million in available government funding to jump-start Phase 2 which has already been approved by the Board of the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA).   

Nangel said that even sans foreign funding, they were already able to generate new areas, including 7,173 for Phase 1 while for Phase 2, they expect to irrigate 1,060 hectares within the year.

“We in NIA are pro-active. We don’t wait for foreign funding to arrive before we act. While waiting for the foreign funds to come in, we do our end of the bargain,” he said.     

Engineer Noldin Oyod, Mal-Mar project manager said that with regards to the P100 million earmarked for Phase 1 of the project, this is now being utilized for civil works such as construction of canal lining and drainage facilities and access road to the project site. This particular portion, located in the Upper Malitubog area covers 1,611 hectares.   

He said the remaining P305 million - which will be spent for improvement and rehabilitation of existing structures - has just been released to the NIA regional irrigation office in the Maridagao area under irrigation manager Cesar Solaic.

Noyod said the cost of irrigation for Phase 2 would not reach P1 million per hectare contrary to the claims of Palmones since the P6.2 billion has a social component and will also cover institutional development, farmers’ training, land acquisition among others.

“The allegations of corruption regarding the project are nothing new and were actually a rehash of old charges. I recalled that back in 2003, the House of Representatives conducted an investigation into “certain anomalies” in the project but nothing has been established,” Noyod said. 

He said that these corruption allegations even reached the Office of the Ombudsman but they were subsequently dismissed. (Jason de Asis)

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