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‘Probe overpricing’

Congress wants to review LTO plate deal

LAWMAKERS crossed party lines Monday to support a call for a full-blown congressional investigation into alleged irregularities in the P3.8 billion contract for new license plates approved by the Land Transportation Office (LTO).

Abakada party-list Rep. Jonathan de la Cruz, a member of the House independent minority bloc, voiced concern over an expose by Isabela Rep. Rodolfo Albano III that the new license plates were substandard and overpriced by P180 each, resulting in a loss of P1.51 billion.

“This has to be investigated thoroughly to find out who are responsible for this multi-billion-peso racket,” dela Cruz said.

LTO chief Alfonso Tan Jr.
But LTO chief Alfonso Tan Jr. denied that the agency was becoming a milking cow for the Liberal Party, saying no politics was involved.

“We are a just a line agency. We do not retain fees or collections. They go straight to the national treasury,” Tan said.

He also denied Albano’s allegations that the important license plates were substandard and overpriced.

“The procurement went through a public bidding. There were seven or eight bidders. Only two were able to qualify. Some were disqualified for lack of requirements submitted. We chose the lowest bidder at P380 per plate. This plate is relatively cheaper and definitely better than the locally made [ones],” he added.

Tan said the second lowest bidder came in at P388 a plate, not P200.

“Of those that qualified, none offered P200 per plate. I just don’t know where that came from,” Tan said.

Tan added that bids that did not qualify were not opened. “We would be violating the law if we opened them. There was no way to verify their offer,” he said.

In separate interviews, administration lawmakers led by Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr. said they would support a probe.

“If indeed there is overpricing, then an investigation should be undertaken to expose the culprits or exonerate the innocent,” said Quezon City Rep. Jorge Banal.

He added that a probe would give LTO officials the opportunity to clarify matters and their accusers to substantiate their allegations.

Negros Occidental Rep. Albee Benitez also supported a probe.

“Any probe on corruption should be welcomed,” Benitez said.  “It either clears the doubt or discovers wrongdoing.”

Albano had earlier disclosed that the winning bidder priced the imported plate at P380 each, while the lowest bidder pegged the cost at P200.

Albano, in a radio interview, also urged President Benigno Aquino III and Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya to suspend the LTO officials responsible for the anomalous contract.

Albano also demanded that that the government contract with the car plate manufacturer, Power Plates Development Concepts Inc. and Dutch firm J. Knierem BV-Goes, be suspended and that motorists who bought their plates for P450 be refunded.

But Albano clarified that he was not making any insinuations that the LTO’s anomalous contract had anything to do with fund raising for the ruling Liberal Party.

“I did not say that, I don’t think that is fair and accurate,” Albano said in response to newspaper reports attributed to him that the administration could be raising funds for the ruling Liberal Party’s 2016 election campaign.

“What I am saying is that there must be wrong with this contract and this has to be corrected,” said Albano, who described the contract as a “milk-and-bilk” racket by the LTO.

Reps. Gus Tambunting of Paranaque and 1-BAP party-list Rep. Silvestre Bello III also supported the call for a probe.

“If there is an overprice, no matter the amount, it should be investigated,” Tambunting of the opposition United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) said.

Bello, a House deputy minority leader, said the overpricing of license plates was a “recidivist scam in the LTO.”

He added that Congress should draft preventive and curative legislation to protect the public.

Albano earlier called on the LTO to stop its new vehicle license plate program and allow car owners to go back to paying only for registration and stickers.

This, he said, was in light of the Commission on Audit order to stop payment for the new car plates to its foreign manufacturer because of serious bidding and contract violations.

“This entire program is not only illegal and a financial mess but a logistical disaster resulting in delayed delivery of the new car plates by the ‘favored contractor’ who manufactures them abroad,” Albano said.

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