18 May 2009

DepEd's Overpriced Noodle Deal

Photo courtesy of ABS-CBN News Online Beta
A businessman has accused the Department of Education (DepEd) of allegedly manipulating its bidding requirements to favor a certain supplier of noodles for government's Food-For-School Program.

In a sworn statement submitted to the Senate Committee on Education, Prudencio Quido Jr. said the contracts awarded by DepEd to Jeverps Manufacturing Corporation since 2007 were "highly anomalous, fraudulent and worse, most disadvantageous to the interest of the government and supposed beneficiaries — the public school elementary children."

He said DepEd awarded to Jeverps a PhP 284.13-million contract for "fortified noodles with fresh eggs" in 2007 and PhP 427.21 million for "fortified noodles with fresh eggs and malunggay" in 2009. Jeverps, it seems, is the only supplier who participated in the bidding and was favored by DepEd for five years.

Not surprisingly, DepEd officials denied favoring Jeverps, saying they awarded the contract to the company because it was the only one that participated in the bidding. So it was just coincidental that in those five years of anomalous transaction, the bidding requirements only favored one supplier? Interesting observation, but nonsensical nevertheless, when one considers that no local manufacturer can comply with the requirements set by DepEd that each noodles should contain 100 grams.

Why make it 100 grams when what is regularly being supplied to the market is only 55 grams? Does this requirement reflect the farcical state of affairs inside DepEd? Worse, the price per pack being considered is PhP 18.00 when a 55 gram noodle pack can be bought for only PhP 6.00. Even if we double the market price of the prevailing brands, it will only cost the government PhP 12.00 each.

Lawyer Chito Dimaculangan, spokesperson for Jeverps, denied that the company monopolized the supply of noodles to the DepEd and added that it is not their fault that other noodle companies chose not to participate in the bidding process. Of course, this people will deny it. But the question is, why take a defensive stance at this time when it was only DepEd that was questioned by the Senate.

Since, they started prattling about their innocence this early and made their point across without being asked, maybe Jeverps can justify why the government should spend taxpayer’s money on their product when am affordable alternative is available in the market. Unless they can provide an acceptable answer to this, it may be better for them to just shut their mouth about this issue and stop trying to appear Cory-Aquino-like at the expense of taxpayer's money and children's well-being.

DepEd Undersecretary Ted Sangil was also quick to deflect the issue by raising the need to feed "almost 400,000 students" in 13 provinces with serious nutritional problems. He said, "Should we postpone it just because somebody made an allegation? Isn't that unfair to the pupils?"

As a DepEd Undersecretary, Sangil knows better than to raise this question. A project that was intended to augment public school children’s nutritional requirements, but instead is allegedly being used to feed the greed of some DepEd officials cannot and should not be implemented. Of course, nobody can blame Undersecretary Sangil because he could only be a product of a dreary production line of career politicians with very little real job experience and even less common sense. Which many suppose is the reason why he made a total prat of himself in the Senate hearing when he tried to appear statesman-like, saying that the complainant is not a bidder and the complaint was not made in the prescribed form.

Well, the complaint may not be in accordance with any form and the allegations were not made under oath, but it does not mean that they are baseless and safe. By including additional provision in the bid form that will certainly shut out and discourage additional bidders aside from Jeverps shows that there was an intention to deceive the public and the taxpayers.

Furthermore, there is enough reason for the public to be concerned with the welfare of their children since the labeling of the noodle packs "Fortified Instant Noodles with Fresh Eggs" is highly deceitful. It gives the impression that there is a fresh egg inside the pack, when in truth there is none. A testing agency in Vietnam even made a surprising revelation when it reported that "the DepEd’s fortified instant noodle with fresh egg is made of flour and does not contain any fresh egg but mere egg powder."

So, why forced this expensive, inconvenient and irrelevant variety of noodle? It is part of pre-election campaign materials at a time when quite frankly most people are concerned about keeping their jobs, paying the food, utility and mortgage bills and keeping their cars on the road. DepEd is fiddling with unnecessary expenses while the economy burns and they are deflecting urgent issues about this noodle. This is not to say that DepEd is wrong about hungry schoolchildren in public schools, but the timing of this project and its self-centered and questionable methodology needs to be studied and scrutinized further until heads roll in tat department.