By Carmelito Q. Francisco, Correspondent

Transparency pressed in bidding of Sasa Port project

Posted on February 15, 2016

DAVAO CITY -- The city’s business sector again called on the government for transparency in the P18.99-billion Sasa Port modernization project following the conclusion of the second round of one-on-one consultations with bidders scheduled last month.

The new president of the Davao City Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Inc., Bonifacio T. Tan, said the national government -- particularly the Department of Transportation and Communications (DoTC) and the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) Center -- has been so “secretive” about the project.

“The problem is that unless you are a qualified bidder, you cannot access the terms of reference and evaluate whether the project is advantageous or not. This is because the administration shelved the freedom of information bill,” Mr. Tan said in an interview.

Mr. Tan, whose company exports rubber, said the business community and the public in general have the right to know the details because “the port users and the public will carry the burden because the company that will run the port will have every opportunity to raise the rates depending on what is stipulated in the terms of reference.”

The top official of one of the buyers of the pre-bid documents, Anflo Management and Investment Corporation (Anflocor), said the Sasa package is “practically impossible for local operators to bid for.”

Another firm, Spain’s Obrascon Huarte Lain SA, also bought a pre-bid document but did not participate in the July 29, 2015 prequalification conference.

Among the requirements for the bidder are: 10 years of port operations, international experience for at least three years, a minimum net worth of P3 billion as of December 2014, and a letter from a bank affirming the bidder could obtain a loan facility of at least P7 billion.

“Only the very largest companies in Manila partnered with large foreign companies are able to meet DoTC’s qualifications for this pet project of theirs,” said Anthony Alexander N. Valoria, president and chief executive officer of Anflocor, which owns and operates the three-year old Davao International Container Terminal in neighboring Panabo City.

The five pre-qualified bidders for the first seaport project under the PPP scheme are: Asian Terminals, Inc. -- DP World FZE Consortium, Bollore Africa Logistics, International Container Terminal Services, Inc., San Miguel Holdings Corp. -- APM Terminals Management (Singapore) Pte Ltd. Consortium with Hyundai Development Company and Hanjin Heavy Industries & Construction Co., Ltd. as contractors, and Singapore-based Portek International Pte. Ltd. -- National Marine Corp. consortium with Toyo Construction Co. Ltd. as contractor.

However, Portek International has since withdrawn from the bidding, as confirmed by the PPP Center in an e-mail to BusinessWorld.

BusinessWorld tried to get further confirmation from DoTC Project Manager Migue Enrico Paala, as referred by the PPP Center, but he has yet to reply to an e-mail sent two weeks ago.

Mr. Valoria said Anflocor and the local business sector are not against the port modernization project, but merely want clarification on the basis of the bid price and several issues such as traffic congestion around the Sasa Port area and relocation for affected communities.

“May I be very clear that we are not against the modernization of Sasa port. All we are asking the DoTC is not to rush into this and to listen and consult with Davao stakeholders as to what Davao really... needs in Sasa,” he said.

Mr. Tan, for his part, pointed out the business sector and the local government were never consulted when the project was being drafted by the groups hired by the government for the feasibility study.

He was referring to the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation and the government-owned Development Bank of the Philippines.

The Davao City council passed a resolution last December formalizing their opposition to the project as it is.

The Regional Development Council, on the other hand, endorsed the project in December 2014, but is still waiting for the DoTC’s reply on preconditions such as a comprehensive relocation plan, property acquisition arrangement, and real property tax payments.

In earlier announcements, the DoTC and the PPP said the project is intended for awarding by April this year.