PPP project attracts single bidder

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — The public-private partnership (PPP) program of the outgoing Aquino administration met another stumbling block on Friday, as only one company tabled a bid for its latest project.

Unisys Public Sector Services Corp. was the sole bidder to modernize the government's civil registry system — a database of birth and marriage certificates, specimen signatures, and the like.

The ₱1.6-billion deal involves the computerization of all civil registry operations of the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), as well as the construction of a building that will house the servers of the new information technology (IT) system.

Unisys is not new to government IT projects. It previously worked with the National Statistics Office — the precursor to the PSA — and the Bureau of Customs.

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However, there were three firms that were pre-qualified to bid for the civil registry deal. The PPP Center had hoped to get bids from all groups, but Morpho-Filmetrics-Frey Consortium and PNJ Partnership Consortium backed out.

Because there is only one bid, the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) is required to review the technical and financial proposals submitted by Unisys. Until NEDA gives its approval, the project cannot be awarded. This adds another setback to an already delayed project.

PPP Center Executive Director Andre Palacios told CNN Philippines: "According to the timeline proposed to the NEDA Board, the approving body, the project should have been awarded by February 2016 and bid submission should have happened last January. So we are five months behind schedule."

The current contract for the civil registry system runs out on March 2017. The PPP Center had hoped to get a new deal arranged by this September so the new contractor can get a six-month transition period.

More to come

The Aquino administration launched the PPP program to much fanfare in 2011. It was vaunted as the solution to the country's inadequate infrastructure.

The PPP program aims to get government and business to share the costs and the risks that come with long-term, big-ticket infrastructure projects.

However, there have only been 12 projects rolled out in the last five years. Some have been delayed due to questions about their terms, others have been cancelled completely because of problems with the rollout.

The last PPP project put on the auction block was the ₱122.8-billion Laguna Lakeshore Expressway Dike project in March. It was the second-biggest PPP deal at the time, but none of the three pre-qualified bidders opted to join the auction.

Palacios remains unfazed, though, and he is optimistic the coming PPP projects will attract stronger interest from the private sector.

Up next is the bidding for the regional prisons project on August 25. It involves the construction and maintenance of a prison in Nueva Ecija, augmenting the facilities in the New Bilibid Prison and the Correctional Institution for Women. It is valued at ₱50.2 billion.

The pre-qualification for the Light Rail Transit (LRT) Line 6 project will also be held on September 9. The ₱65.1-billion deal proposes to build a 19-kilometer railway from Bacoor to Dasmariñas, linking Cavite to the existing LRT Line 1.

"We have received keen interest from prospective bidders. We are hopeful that they will see this project as attractive and they will proceed to submit their pre-qualification documents," Palacios said.

Better terms promised

Palacios admitted the firms interested in the LRT 6 project raised concerns about the acquisition of right of way.

The project involves starting a railway from scratch, and this involves the potentially contentious process of acquiring land rights.

The ₱8.7-billion PPP deal to modernize the Philippine Orthopedic Center was cancelled completely last November. The contract was awarded to Megawide World Citi Consortium in 2014 to build a new hospital in the National Kidney and Transplant Institute (NKTI) compound.

But after months of waiting, the government could not grant Megawide the rights to the land because NKTI did not want to give it up.

"We couldn't even give them land... that was already owned by the goverment. So I understand the concerns of the private sector about right-of-way acquisition," Palacios said.

He said "proper attention" was being given to the issue, and the PPP Center was working on rules to make acquisition a much faster process.