Fool-proofing the Swiss Challenge

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OPINION

FILIPINOS are known for their resiliency. For corrupt bureaucrats, they are resilient against any form of crackdown against their shenanigans and under-the-table deals. More than any other class of people, they are the ones who have perfected the art of discreet and overt plunder.

technocrati

They will find a way to circumvent lifestyle checks, SALNs, reshuffling of positions, computerization of transactions, CCTV cameras, etc. So it would not be surprising if dismantling the bidding process for public procurement projects would not wipe out the so-called “commissioners” in government. To them, the Swiss Challenge is fair game.

President Duterte has declared lately that he wants government projects to be contracted out via the Swiss Challenge instead of through public bidding, which he claimed is corruption-prone as bidders connive with each other to corner contracts and bribe public officials to favor their bid. But the Swiss Challenge is not something new and untested. It has been applied to past government projects making it familiar to manipulators. By this time, bureaucrats and their conspirators in the private sector have already designed contingencies to outwit the Swiss Challenge.

A distinct feature of the Swiss Challenge system is that there is no bidding involved. Instead, any private company can submit an unsolicited proposal to undertake a particular government project. The unsolicited proposal is then subjected to a challenge from another or other contractors, who make a better counter-offer. The company that first offered the unsolicited proposal can still challenge the counter-offer by improving its original design and price. Then the government agency decides to choose the best offer and award the project to the chosen contractor.

Because there is still intervention by public officials, the one or ones who choose the winning proposal, such bureaucrats are open to bribery by the contractor that wants to clinch the contract. Any proposer might try to bribe concerned officials to approve their project or disapprove competing proposals.

So, there should be ways or contingencies in place to make the Swiss Challenge not vulnerable to circumvention by government people who want to make money or “commissions” from public procurements and projects. Perhaps there should be strict monitoring, transparency and bank history checking for officials dealing with prospective contractors before, during and after the award of a project.

By monitoring, bureaucrats who talk with prospective contractors would be identified and the topic of their conversations be determined. By transparency, the agency should make public all transcripts of records of meetings and discussions pertaining to unsolicited proposal and counter-proposals so people would know who favored who and if the reasons for their choice are valid.

And by checking their bank account transactions for unusual deposits and withdrawals, it would be easy to determine if money changed hands between the project proposers and approvers.

There should be other ways to fool-proof the Swiss Challenge to prevent it from being abused and becoming a new tool for corrupt bureaucrats to earn commissions or get bribes from contractors and bidders, which the latter then recovers by jacking up the price of their service and charging the government higher cost at the expense of taxpayers.

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