Property

Megawide scandal: Duterte’s anti-sleaze body to look into Saavedra’s P107B airport deal

Bilyonaryo Edgar Saavedra’s planned takeover of the country’s largest gateway will be among the first, allegedly corruption-laced deals to be scrutinized by President Rodrigo Duterte’s anti-sleaze body.

Congressman Jericho Nograles, a member of the anti-graft task force looking into controversial government projects worth over P1 billion, has asked Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra to initiate a probe on Saavedra’s Megawide Construction’s P107 billion offer to rehabilitate and expand the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) under a 25-year contract.

“The Megawide scandal has been questioned in the plenary sessions of the House of Representatives as to why the company continues to enjoy original proponent status (OPS) from the MIAA (Manila International Airport Authority) when the NEDA (National Economic and Development Authority) has already determined the proposal to be insufficient as of August 2020.

The continued enjoyment of OPS, among other questionable actions, is a clear violation of Republic Act 3019,” Nograles said in his November 4 letter to Guevarra, chair of the anti-corruption task force.

The OPS status gives Saavedra the chance to match any proposal from other parties in a Swiss challenge.

Nograles said Megawide should have lost its OPS after its consortium partner, Indian infrastructural conglomerate GMR Group, abandoned Saavedra.

Nograles doubts whether Saavedra, who dropped out of Forbes 50 richest

Filipinos in 2020, was financially capable to undertake the project considering Megawide’s massive debts.

“While the project is ambitious, the BOT (build, operate and transfer) Law is clear that any unsolicited proposal is only acceptable if the proponent has adequate capital. This expansion project does not only reek of corruption but it is also detrimental to public interest. I wonder what kind of magic spell was used to blur the minds of our DoTr (Department of Transportation) and MIAA officials,” Nograles said.

Nograles accused the DoTr, led by Secretary Art Tugade, of being in “rush” to green light Saavedra’s offer that it “even ignored the legal requirements for the MIAA management to conduct a stakeholders consultation that would include employees and existing concessionaires before awarding the contract to Megawide.”

Nograles also questioned DoTr’s decision to bend over backwards in view of Saavedra’s lack of capital to undertake the project.

“Any shortcut and accommodation such as the lifting of equity requirements is tantamount to graft,” Nograles said.

Nograles found it “alarming” that while DoTr waived the minimum equity requirement for Saavedra, it was unwavering on its stand not to relax

the terms with the original group which offered to rebuild NAIA, the mega consortium of Ayala Corp., Aboitiz Equity Ventures, Alliance Global Group of Andrew Tan, Asia Emerging Dragon Corp. of Lucio Tan, Filinvest Development of the Gotianuns, JG Summit Holdings of the Gokongweis, and Salim-Metro Pacific. This group pulled out in March 2020 or two years after making the original offer.

“Your (DoTr) office negotiated and approved that there will be no minimum equity requirements on the part of the project proponent. This accommodation was not extended to the previous mega-consortium, and may be considered in violation of Republic Act 3019, otherwise known as the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act for giving unwarranted benefits, advantage, or preference to a private party,” Nograles said.

During the budget hearing of the DoTr, Undersecretary for Planning and Development Ruben Reinoso admitted that Megawide was “non-compliant” with the needed documentary requirements which could prove that the consortium is financially capable to pursue the airport expansion project.

“GMR indeed submitted some financial documents but in the last deliberation of the investment coordination committee (ICC) of the NEDA board, they are requesting documents to prove the financial capability of the proponent to invest in the P107 Billion, which means the necessary equity for the 70:30 debt ratio,” Reinoso said.

Nograles said this statement of Reinoso was a clear admission that the DoTr committed something that was patently illegal and tantamount to graft because a contract must be awarded only to a proponent which has already fully satisfied the documentary requirement as required by law.

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