POSTSCRIPT / March 22, 2009 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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NIA: No award yet on P1.4-B purchase

POINTLESS: Justice Lucas Bersamin of the Court of Appeals spent 1,100 words in last Friday’s issue replying to my 210-word passing comment in Postscript about an unnamed justice who is on the short list of nominees for a Supreme Court vacancy — and who I still believe should NOT be elevated to the High Court.

Instead of raking up incidents long past just to refresh the justice’s memory, I am dropping the depressing subject.

Debating any nominee’s fitness for an SC seat is pointless at this late date. Whatever we in the irrelevant bleachers say, Malacanang will go ahead and appoint its favorite anyway. And I am not necessarily referring to Mr. Bersamin.

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NIA SIDE: What scam are they talking about?, asked Administrator Carlos Salazar of the National Irrigation Administration.

Reacting to a report in Postscript on a proposed Senate investigation into a P1.4-billion NIA project, Salazar explained that there was no “scam” to speak of because the bidding has not been consummated in the first place.

Some senators, notably Sen. Mar Roxas, assailed alleged overpricing of hydraulic excavators and other heavy equipment for the repair of irrigation and drainage canals. He asked that the project be investigated.

Disqualified bidders claimed that their prices were 20 percent lower than those who qualified. But Salazar said such claims could not be verified, because the losers’ prices have not been disclosed. Under the rules, an ineligible bid remains unopened.

What stands as fact, he added, was that the cost estimates submitted by the qualified bidders were below the approved NIA budget.

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DEADLINE PER IRR: The NIA is also being criticized for the short period given interested parties to submit requirements, which was allegedly done intentionally to limit the number of bidders.

Salazar explained that the invitation to bid was published Dec. 16 in a big newspaper as required under the Implementing Rules and Regulations of RA 9184 (Government Procurement Act). Under the rules, bidders have 30 calendar days from the date of this advertisement until the opening of bids.

The original date of the bid opening should have been on Jan. 16, 2009, but this was moved to Jan. 19 owing to the postponement of the pre-bidding conference from Dec. 23 to Jan. 6.

The NIA just complied with the rules, Salazar said, adding: “Why fault NIA for toeing the line and following the IRR of RA 9184?”

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LIFE SPAN: The NIA was also faulted for imposing stringent rules on bidders. Salazar said one disqualified bidder, Maxima Machineries Inc., has complained about the rule that the dealer of the heavy equipment must have at least 25 years of experience.

Considering that the project amount was over P1 billion, he said, the NIA wanted to make sure it was dealing with a reliable company with a long track record — “a company that would still be around for the next 25 years or so.”

“Equipment like hydraulic excavators have 25- to 30-year life spans, so NIA wanted to deal with a company that would be able to cover the maintenance and repair even after 25 years,” he said.

He added that NIA does not want a repeat of its unfortunate experience of procuring dump trucks from Romania in 1979 and another set of the same equipment from China in 1985, which eventually turned out to be lemons.

Another firm identified as Monark Corp. raised a howl for having been barred from the bidding. But the truth, Salazar said, is that the company did not submit any letter or request for reconsideration expressing its intent to participate.

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COMPETING FIRMS: As for claims that the bidding was rigged for a favored bidder, Salazar said the Bids and Awards Committee has not completed the initial evaluation and thus cannot even begin the post-qualification stage needed before any award can be made under RA 9184.

Seven companies submitted letters of intent to supply hydraulic excavators and truck tractors with trailer. These were Maxima, Civic Merchandising Inc., Transport Equipment Corp. (TEC), Wilan Merchandising Phils., Transtar Corp., International Heavy Equipment Corp. (IHEC), and TKC Heavy Industries Corp.

Civic, Maxima, TEC and IHEC submitted their bids during the opening of the bids last Jan. 19. Wilan and Transtar backed out while TKC did not submit either a bid or a letter of withdrawal.

The NIA’s BAC said Civic and TEC complied with the eligibility requirements. But it found Maxima and IHEC ineligible, because of their alleged failure to submit such requirements as their registration with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

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PERMITS STILL GOOD: But while the BAC said Maxima submitted an expired business permit and that IHEC gave an expired tax clearance, the two firms insisted that their papers were not expired and were just being renewed.

It turned out that it was one bidder who said that Maxima had an expired business permit, and the BAC simply disqualified it on that basis.

The BAC reconsidered after the company submitted a certification from the Quezon City Business Permit and Licensing Office that its 2008 permit was valid up to the last day of payment of taxes and fees on Jan. 20, 2009.

Maxima and IHEC filed a motion for reconsideration, but the BAC denied the appeals within the seven-day period provided under the IRR of RA 9184.

The BAC returned the bids of Maxima and IHEC unopened. Instead of filing a protest within seven days, Maxima filed a case against NIA, its BAC, TEC and Civic before the Quezon City Regional Trial Court.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 22, 2009)

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