The business community should know and appreciate the efforts of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to monitor big-ticket infrastructure projects in their implementation, through its Project DIME, for Digital Information for Monitoring and Evaluation.
Project DIME aims to monitor selected high-value government projects by comparing fund utilization vis-à-vis physical accomplishment through the use of various DDITs or Digital Data Imaging Technologies.
The pilot applications on 12 agencies’ selected infrastructure projects have been completed in 2018, assessed, and reported on. I share the findings and results from information sourced from DBM’s DIME staff.
But first, a little bit of history. The project was officially launched in March 2018 by then DBM Secretary Ben Diokno with Department of Science and Technology (DoST) Secretary Fortunato de la Peña. The project uses DoST-developed technologies and expertise on data acquisition and management.
The DBM report explains: “The perennial underspending among agencies, weak M&E systems and the impending shift to a one-year horizon for program/project implementation and goods/services delivery are the context which led to the conceptualization and eventual adoption of the Project DIME (or Digital Imaging for Monitoring and Evaluation). The project is one of the strategies to exercise the management function of DBM and see to it that every peso allocated is used as intended or budgeted. Project DIME is anchored on three key thrusts, including: 1) Results-based monitoring, evaluation and reporting; 2) Use of digital data imaging technologies (DDIT); and 3) Collaboration and Partnership.”
Collaborating with DoST, the DBM obtains evidence of performance remotely using DDIT such as satellites, drones, LIDAR or Light Detection and Ranging, and geo-tagging. The use of DDIT allows monitoring projects in remote areas where physical inspection would be difficult.
The selection criteria for programs/projects included in DIME’s initial scrutiny included: (a) their priority status in the administration’s infrastructure program; (b) the magnitude of the fund requirements; (c) the perceived weak performance budget utilization rate (low utilization rate or slow-moving); (d) the reach or impact of the project (nationwide or international); and others, like a record of adverse COA findings.
By these criteria, the pilot programs/projects chosen included: for hard programs/projects — the construction and improvement of access roads to airports/seaports (DPWH); construction/repair of farm-to-market roads (DA); construction/repair of national and communal irrigation systems; national greening program (DENR); and the North-South Commuter Railway/Tutuban Manila to Malolos (DOTr).
For semi-hard programs/projects: construction of new classrooms (DepEd); Health Facilities Enhancement Program (DoH); community fish landing centers (BFAR); free Wi-Fi (DICT); and water supply infrastructure for 432 waterless municipalities.
For soft programs/projects: Pantawid ng Pamilya Pilipino Program (DSWD); and Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education (CHED).
Hard projects are infrastructure projects that the existence of which can be validated remotely, generally “horizontal structures” such as roads, railways, irrigation canals, and trees. Semi-hard projects are generally “vertical structures,” e.g. buildings, capable of detection remotely but needs on-site validation for accurate assessment of progress and performance. Soft projects are those intangible assets such as financial grants to target beneficiaries. These classifications allow better choices of monitoring approaches.
Here’s a summary of the 2018 financial and physical status:
Most monitored programs had above 50% obligation rates (budget utilization rate or BUR) but majority had less than 70% disbursement rate, i.e. seven out of 12 of programs. Below 70% BUR was the criterion for inclusion in the pilot DIME project.
“Physical performance painted a varied picture in accomplishments with four out of 12 programs reported above 70%, and to a large extent projects are in the ongoing phase. On the other hand, the DICT and DoH have the biggest gap in accomplishment, 92% and 69% respectively. Others have between one percent and 31% in undelivered targets.”
Not the best financial and physical performance report, admittedly, but with the DIME Project, DBM is better enabled to monitor infrastructure projects, citizens can participate in the monitoring (that’s the intention), and we all get to know what’s happening on real time. With DIME, “ghost projects will be a thing of the past,” assures Secretary Ben Diokno.
Actually, DIME is not that simple a project to roll out. Four working groups are involved: Central Office Project Monitoring Teams; Regional DIME Units; Project Management Office; and Teams from DOST UP. There are desk reviews and coordination meetings with all concerned agencies. There are on-the-ground validation inspections. Technical staff conduct data analytics. Researches and surveys are pursued to better develop methodologies for monitoring and evaluation.
Moving forward, the DIME Project is being further developed for accuracy and expansion of coverage. One theme pursued is to adopt civic technology and integrate citizen participatory monitoring mechanisms in basic delivery and the implementation of national and local infrastructure projects.
This is perhaps a little bit tedious as a detailed narrative, but can’t we be encouraged? This is innovative use of technology to enforce transparency and accountability in public spending, what all of us are loudly clamoring for. Let’s look forward to participate in the monitoring as citizens. For now, let’s recognize DBM for this worthy initiative.
Santiago F. Dumlao, Jr. is currently Secretary-General of the Association of Credit Rating Agencies in Asia (ACRAA)