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Investigation underway after corruption allegations against WiFi contractor

THE Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) said Monday that it is set to investigate corruption allegations against SpeedCast International Ltd, a Hong Kong-based firm tapped to implement the government’s free internet connectivity project.

The announcement, in a statement issued late Monday, comes after the President’s spokesman Herminio L. Roque, Jr. asked the DICT to terminate its contract with SpeedCast for the P1.3-billion free WiFi project due to the slow rollout, and amid reports that the company had undervalued six shipments in its Customs declarations.

“We constituted an Investigating Task Force, and it is set to investigate the Bureau of Customs (BoC) findings on the UNDP contractor’s alleged violation of customs and other Philippine laws,” it said in a statement, referring to the United Nations Development Programme, the proponent of a global inclusive connectivity initiative.

“We will review the BoC report and the evidence presented, and call the necessary parties to our investigation.”

In a televised briefing, Mr.  Roque said it was unacceptable that only 10,000 out of the 120,000 target sites have been provided free wireless internet access nearly four years after President Rodrigo R. Duterte signed Republic Act No. 10929, which authorized the government to offer the public free internet access.

The law led to a DICT to partnership with the UNDP in 2018 to install free internet in selected public areas. 

“Based on existing records, the UNDP Pipol Konek Project was entered into in September 2018 during the early stages of the Department when the DICT still did not have the capacity to procure and implement the project on its own,” the DICT said. “As a result, UNDP entered into 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.”

The DICT said itasked the UNDP to return the funds “so that DICT can fast track and continue” the project.  

The DICT said it is now capable of implementing the project without involving its current partners, noting that it was able to activate more than 4,000 sites on its own. 

“Under our leadership, we are more than capable of finishing the project,” it said. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza

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