A lawmaker said on Tuesday that with the rapid demise of huge filing cabinets and tons of paper in data storage, document processing and management in government agencies due to digitization and full computerization of government database and document processing systems, corruption and “under-the-table” negotiations now appear to be also shifting to government contracts involving multimillion-peso Information Technology (IT) projects.
“What makes corruption in IT projects nearly undetectable is the fact that with the exception of those employed as IT professionals, the technical intricacies in IT such as software and hardware specifications, are almost alien to most non-IT people, and that includes heads of the country’s government agencies that relies heavily on IT-driven services,” said Western Samar Rep. Mel Senen Sarmiento.
He noted that many corrupt practices in the bureaucracy, particularly in public works projects, have been stamped out because of the reforms and relentless anti-corruption campaign of the Aquino administration.
However, due to its highly technical nature, IT has remained an attractive playground for government contractors trying to pull a fast one against the government and the Filipino taxpayers, he added.
Sarmiento made this revelation as he raised deep concern over reports that some IT companies are in connivance with IT specialists of some government agencies “in order to turn IT projects into virtual milking cows without regard to existing procurement regulations and national security protocols.”
The Visayan lawmaker cited the Bureau of Internal Revenue’s (BIR) recent manner of conducting and awarding past and recently opened bids from previous years and early this month.
The project requires the simple management and maintenance of already existing database servers by a private IT company whereas it would be cheaper and more secure if this is run by the BIR itself.
Besides, Sarmiento said that entrusting the BIR’s Integrated Tax System which is embedded with highly sensitive information to a private firm could be in violation of BIR’s charter.
“It is questionable as to why the BIR needed to outsource its data center providers which the taxpayers pay hundreds of millions (of pesos) per year when in fact, it would be a lot cheaper and more secure to maintain its own data servers,” he said.
Sarmiento said outsourcing data management and processing of sensitive state information such as the tax information of every tax paying citizen “raises concern on the fidelity of the BIR in securing such sensitive information and could be violating its own charter.”
He noted reports of alleged monopolization of a single company called PHILCOX Inc. in multimillion-peso IT projects at the BIR.
“In fairness to (BIR) Commissioner (Kim) Henares whom I know as a person of unquestionable integrity, I think that she too is a victim of this scheme in IT because based on my information, PHILCOX has been around at the BIR even during the past administration. I really think that she should investigate deeper,” the Western Samar solon said.
Based on records, PHILCOX has bagged no less than 17 IT contracts from the BIR alone.
In December 2011 alone, three out of four IT projects that were bidded out were all bagged by PHILCOX in a single day. A failed bidding was declared on the fourth project but PHILCOX had secured the project when it was re-bidded last February 6, said Sarmiento.