RP-World Bank Relations Under Attack
Will World Bank Country Director for the Philippines Bert Hofman go the way of Jimmy Paule and Joc Joc Bolante?
Paule, the alleged ‘bag man-cum-runner’ in th fertilizer fund, is spending the weekend in the Pasay City jail after the Senate cited him in contempt for being “less than truthful” when grilled in connection with the anomaly.
Now it’s the turn of Hofman to be threatened by Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago.
The voluble lawmaker went ballistic this week, even calling the World Bank “squatter” while refusing to give the Senate “an original copy” of its controversial report debarring three Filipino road contractors for colluding to rig the bidding for WB-funded projects.
That 230-page report authored by the Bank’s institutional integrity probe team has got everyone’s dander up because of the manner the investigation was done.
It quotes confidential witnesses as having detailed the bid rigging activities of contractors.
This includes one episode where a Japanese contractor, Tomato Suzuka, supposedly narrated a meeting with First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo where the solicitation of bribes in exchange for project contracts was discussed.
Mr. Arroyo was “not allowed by his doctors to attend the Senate hearing because of the severe stress” he could be subjected to even as he is still recovering from open heart surgery.
The supporters of the Arroyo administration say it is perfectly alright.
The First Gentleman says that while the reference to him in the World Bank reports “are ridiculous and consist of double hearsay” he is ready to submit a sworn statement responding to written questions from senators.
While the controversy may not be at an impasse just yet, the Philippines’s good relations with the World Bank will be the ultimate casualty, along with the confidence of other aid granting institutions.
Filipinos know how dependent the Philippine is on foreign loans to shore up the government’s endemic budget deficit.
You may not be a fan of opposition Senator Panfilo Lacson but he is correct to warn that the current attitude of officials like Senator Santiago may backfire on the country’s continued access to foreign loans that fund badly needed infrastructure and other development projects.