What would have benefited the country most during the pandemic was the free WiFi service that was a project of the Duterte administration long before the global contagion erupted, but which his underlings bungled.
The Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) was tasked to implement the Free WiFi for All project, which was one of the pledges of President Rodrigo Duterte in his first State of the Nation Address (SoNA).
Some P1.24 billion in public funds were infused into the project in 2017 alone, the Commission on Audit (CoA) said in a report.
Through assistance from the United Nations, the project dubbed “Pipol Konek” would have made huge strides, but instead it was mired in anomalies, including the commissioning of a foreign contractor that turned out to have questionable capability.
The project ended up with an unusual setup with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) running the show and having the choice for the project’s contractor.
Had the ambitious plan pulled through, the government would have provided the infrastructure for public education, which went remote as a result of the health crisis, as it would have covered 1,634 municipalities and cities nationwide.
The project was started four years ago, but a CoA audit found it to have lacked “meticulous and judicious planning coupled with ineffective coordination with local government units (LGU), private suppliers and service providers.”
The CoA said since 2015, when the project started under the name Juan Konek, the government had allotted P4.82 billion for it.
The report said 19 awarded contracts under “Pipol Konek” from March 2016 to October 2017 were either “suspended, delayed or not completed.”
“Pipol Konek” was supposedly the fulfillment of Mr. Duterte’s promise in the SoNA on 25 July 2016 where he stated WiFi access must be provided to the public at no charge.
Had the vision been realized, families under lockdown would have one thing less to worry about, which is the cost of Internet access that is now one of the major items in the household budget.
The project should have been completed in 2018 with most of the country covered by free WiFi connection, mainly in 5,250 public schools, colleges and universities nationwide.
“This is part of the total 13,024 sites (P3.060-billion budget) to be covered by the end of 2017, with this number leaping to 18,332 sites (totaling P6.507 billion estimated budget to be spent) by 2018,” the CoA said in its report.
CoA found the project was marred by inefficiencies from the start.
“Out of 15 projects which started February 2016 to July 2016, with completion dates from April 2016 to December 2016, 13 or 86.66 percent of contracts were suspended and two have zero accomplishment,” the report added.
The CoA said 19 contracts, which started from January 2017 to October 2017 with completion dates from July 2017 to December 2017, had accomplishments that “ranged from zero to 9.52 percent and all contracts were suspended.”
As of November 2020, of the 3,000 sites identified by UNDP and the contractor Speedcast, about 1,767 had been problematic, inaccessible for site surveys or 242 sites having faulty or incomplete data; 785 sites were found dangerous, could risk the safety and security of teams because of “severe geographic or terrain challenges”; and feudal and political issues.
It’s a sheer waste of a project that was a product of foresight of the leadership, but instead became a showcase of gross inefficiency and lack of purpose, which are the bane of many in government.
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