‘Healthy’ Cabinet Discussions Will Provide Clues in NBN Graft Puzzle

Part of a frantic cover up.

This was how Senator Panfilo M. Lacson today described Malacañang’s refusal to divulge the minutes of the meeting between President Arroyo and members of the Commission on Information and Communications Technology regarding the National Broadband Network project. 

“They’re hiding anew behind the cloak of executive privilege,” Lacson said, referring to the recent refusal of the acting National Economic Development Authority chairman Augusto Santos to make public the supposedly `healthy’ discussions over the NBN project during the special joint Investment Coordinating Committee-Cabinet Committee meeting last March.

In a separate meeting sometime in November last year, Mrs. Arroyo and then NEDA chairman Romulo Neri were then on the same position that the NBN project should be under a build-operate-transfer scheme, funded by the private sector and without any government subsidy.

“At that time, it was clear that the government wanted inter-agency connectivity and an information and communications technology infrastructure development at no cost, and with savings instead, to the national government,” Lacson said.

Lacson said the big question is: “What changed the mind of Mrs. Arroyo?”

In his privilege speech last September 11, Lacson noted that no less than President Arroyo went to China “like a thief in the night” to witness the April 21 signing of the $329.5 million supply contract with ZTE Corporation for the NBN undertaking.

Lacson said the minutes of the CICT and ICC-Cabinet meetings, copies of which he obtained from his sources, is an interesting part of the NBN puzzle, which, when put into place, would paint the big and ugly picture of corruption that tainted the project.

In the ICC-Cabinet meetings last March 26, Neri repeatedly raised questions over the economic and project benefits of the NBN project which was gamely defended by Department of Transportation and Communication Undersecretary Lorenzo Formoso III.

Neri noted that “that savings in internet connection cannot be considered as a benefit given that the government does not have much internet connection” and “sought clarification on how VoIP savings translate into benefits for the government.”

Lacson noted that Neri even went as far as comparing the NBN undertaking to the obsolete and virtually useless “Telepono sa Barangay” project.

Citing excerpts of the CICT transcript, Lacson said Mrs. Arroyo instructed Neri “to make sure it’s (NBN) BOT.”

“So you have to specify that government broadband is BOT, not government would gonna spend for it,” Lacson quoted Mrs. Arroyo as telling CICT chairman Ramon
Sales, who in turn answered to the affirmative upon the instruction.

Lacson said there was a clear turnaround from the previous positions taken by Mrs. Arroyo and Neri who both acceded to the granting of the supply contract to ZTE.