The House committee on information and communications technology (ICT) will definitely conduct “an exhaustive inquiry” on the government’s controversial $330-million contract with ZTE Corp. for the supply and construction of a national broadband network (NBN).
The new committee chairman, lone Catanduanes Rep. Joseph Santiago, vowed to launch the probe shortly, once the panel is fully organized.
“Instead of focusing on the players in the project, we want to look into the concept itself — whether government really needs to establish this network, or we would all be better off just leaving this entirely up to the private sector,” Santiago said.
The “players” alluded to by Santiago include the Chinese government, which owns a big chunk of ZTE; the U.S. government, which is subtly protesting the ZTE contract, after an American company that had wanted to bid for a similar project was sidelined; and House Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr.’s son, Jose III, who is the principal of yet another firm that had also wanted to undertake a comparable venture.
Santiago, former chief of the National Telecommunications Commission, was the first member of Congress to publicly question the NBN contract with ZTE. Two months ago, he expressed “grave concern” that the planned state-run NBN might just end up as another “costly and burdensome white elephant,” or might only be overtaken swiftly by new and cheaper technologies.
“The government’s lack of core competency is definitely an issue. But this is not the only issue. Cost-efficiency is another issue. Unlike private enterprise, state agencies are inherently inefficient,” Santiago said.
He was referring to a study by the University of the Philippines’ School of Economics (UPSE), which warned that the government lacked the “core competency” to own, maintain and use an IT backbone on top of the two already being run separately by Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. and a league of its rivals.
Santiago, for his part, said that one of the strongest arguments against a government broadband system “is the fact that even the highly advanced governments of other countries do not have state-owned (broadband) networks.”
“In many countries, governments agencies simply rely on existing, more efficient and highly reliable privately owned networks that provide universal access and connectivity,” he said.
Those to be summoned to the House inquiry include officials of the National Economic and Development Authority; Department of Transportation and Communications; National Telecommunications Commission; and the Commission on Information and Communications Technology.
Representatives of ZTE Corp. and rivals Amsterdam Holdings Inc. and Arescom Inc. will also be invited to the public hearing, along with the authors of the UPSE study that listed many reasons why the government should not pursue the NBN project and another $460-million plan to build a satellite-based IT backbone for “cyber education.”