It took the Palace call to kick out Speedcast for Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) Secretary Gringo Honasan to finally break his silence as the free public WiFi fiasco rages amid allegations of corruption, bribery, and incompetence.
The DICT on Monday asked the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to return the P1.3-billion fund earmarked for the ill-fated free WiFi program, saying it is capable to finish the project on its own.
DICT Secretary Honasan issued the call through a statement sent to Tribune, a few hours after the Palace directed the DICT to take steps to kick out UNDP’s choice contractor Speedcast, an Australian multinational firm, from the project.
“We have also requested UNDP for the return of the funds so that DICT can fast track and continue the implementation of the 2018 Pipol Konek Project as part of the DICT’s overall Free WiFi Program,” Honasan said.
“Under our leadership, we are more than capable to finish the project,” he added.
Honasan said he “immediately sought to build up its internal capacity, manpower, and resources” to carry out the DICT’s projects, following his appointment as department chief in July 2019.
Earlier in the day, Malacañang spokesperson Secretary Harry Roque said President Rodrigo Duterte wants Speedcast out of the WiFi program over its “unsatisfactory” performance in installing Internet sites across the country and for allegedly violating Customs laws.
The landmark WiFi project was conceived in September 2018, with DICT Undersecretary Eliseo Rio heading the department. He left in May 2020 and has since taken a hands-off stance in monitoring the progress of the project.
Rio sealed a partnership with the UNDP for the program, as it claimed DICT was incapable of implementing the project on its own at that time. However, the Commission on Audit rejected this in a scathing 2019 report, stating that the DICT failed to provide empirical data to show it lacked the capacity to spearhead the project.
The CoA added that the agency had “insufficient documentation” to prove the propriety and/or necessity of the agreement between DICT and UNDP.
The UNDP then chose Speedcast — which claims that it has “more satellite capacity than any other service provider combined” — as its contractor.
“As a result, UNDP entered the picture to help implement the project and the DICT took no part in the bidding and selection process of UNDP’s suppliers, including SpeedCast,” Honasan said.
The official said the DICT has coordinated with the United Nations agency to complete the WiFi project, adding that the UNDP has indicated its “need to recalibrate” its strategies due to the pandemic.
Honasan, however, belatedly vowed to investigate the Bureau of Customs (BoC) findings on Speedcast’s alleged violation of customs and other Philippine laws.
Customs inspectors caught Speedcast six times for undervaluing its shipment and bribed government personnel, based on the 12 April report of BoC Commissioner Rey Leonardo Guerrero.
Honasan said the task force will review the BoC report and the evidence presented, adding that it will “call the necessary parties to our investigation.”