A few days from now, the Department of Transportation and Communications will be announcing the bid winner for the P8.2 billion LTO-IT project. Or at least, that’s what Transportation chief Jun Abaya had assured, saying that the three lowest bids are being subjected to a thorough post-qualification process. This is something that Happy Hour regulars are, and have been, closely monitoring precisely because a lot is at stake here as far as the public is concerned. For one, a project of such magnitude cannot just be entrusted to any entity with doubtful expertise as far as information and communications technology is concerned. Two, Secretary Abaya must look at the big picture and make informed decisions that would benefit the government and the public in the long run. Remember, it’s false economy to be penny-wise, but pound-foolish.
Which brings to mind the players that submitted the three lowest bids, starting with Digitext Asia (owned by outgoing Camarines Sur Gov. LRay Villafuerte who, along with his wife and other incorporators, are facing multi-million-peso graft charges in connection with CamSur related tourism projects), Fritz and Macziol (whose parent company Royal Imtech NV recently bagged 43 million euros worth of projects for smart traffic technology solutions) and Eurolink (which is facing a potential conflict of interest situation since it owns a private emission testing center that is prohibited from participating in other DOTC-IT projects).
Those in the know find it really strange that Digitext, which is known more as a medical transcription/call center company, feels that it has the chops to engage in a complicated transportation IT project. According to Happy Hour sources, there are many things that allegedly don’t “compute” as far as Digitext Asia is concerned, starting with its Web site (www.digitextasia.com) that displays a surprising dearth of information and is strangely very “uncommunicative” for a 10-year-old company that’s supposed to be technology savvy. There is practically no helpful information in the Web site, no mention of the projects or entities it has worked with, no success stories, no news/press release that would convince visitors that it has the “Wow!” factor necessary to take on a complex technology project such as the one required by the LTO.
Then, there is the company’s address/location. A quick Google check would show that business listings and BPO-related links put Digitext Asia’s address as the Northgate Cyberzone in Muntinlupa. Any cyber-savvy person would know that Northgate Cyberzone at the Filinvest City in Alabang is the “it” IT address for BPO/Call center corporations, e-commerce and software companies, you get the drift. However, Digitext Asia is not among the locators listed in the official web page of the Cyberzone, which includes HSBC, APAC Customer Services, Integra, Team Asia, Informatics College, e-Telecare, Genpact, Teradyne, Firstsource Solutions and Verizon Business.
So where exactly is Digitext Asia’s office? Turns out it’s actually at Alabang-Southgate, looking dejected, forlorn and empty (aren’t call center operations supposed to be 24/7?), located on top of an appliance repair shop, a facial care and spa saloon as well as a beauty parlor, Happy Hour buddies disclosed. That’s probably why Digitext has of late been putting its partner, Trimax IT and Infrastructure, into the picture, with their lawyer and spokesperson issuing a clarification of tender which, according to those familiar with bidding processes, claim to be a shorthand for saying the bidding authority made a mistake in evaluating the bids and should have notified Digitext earlier that it was not qualified to bid in the first place. Ehh?
As one of our guzzlers also pointed out, Trimax is an Indian company—and everyone knows traffic in many places in India continue to be bumper-to-bumper horrific, with motorists virtually crawling on roads. So how sure are people that the Digitext-Trimax consortium can solve traffic and other transport-related problems in this country, including law enforcement and adjudication processes?
But a disturbing thought raised by an old timer is the practice of some companies bidding for a big-ticket government project to submit a bid under the name of a paper corporation (one that exists mainly on paper) while the “proponent” goes around “hawking” the bid documents, hoping to monetize them. Such things happen frequently in the corporate world even for, say, canteen services for a company, the old hand explained. The proponent would conjure a company with absolutely no background in canteens services and operations and through a system of incentives and other persuasive methods, manage to win the bid. After securing the bid at the lowest price, the proponent would then sell the canteen service bid to experienced suppliers—or the ones that will actually supply the required services, for a very hefty cut.
The way it goes, the proponent, after submitting the lowest bid, would then turn to its supposed partners and either ask for a certain amount of compensation to guarantee a win, or ask for a percentage of the funds that will flow in once the contract is awarded. Unfortunately, it’s the company employees who would suffer in the end because they will have to put up with bad cafeteria food— while someone will laugh all the way to the bank with just a few documents as capital expenditure. Good thing the LTO project has nothing to do with canteen services, laughed Happy Hour buddies, clinking their glasses in agreement.
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