The news report that the World Bank has recently rejected some 232 million dollars in loans intended for road improvements in the Philippines particularly in the province of Surigao del Sur came as extremely bad news for tens of thousands of people living in the Lianga area. The condition of the road sections serving the town and the surrounding municipalities have been especially bad the past weeks as a result of persistent rains and the equally persistent failure of the district office of Department of Public Works and Highways in Tandag to conduct adequate maintenance and rehabilitation work on many of the affected areas.
The World Bank board, according to the Wall Street Journal, allegedly cited bidding irregularities, procurement problems, excessive overpricing and other corruption issues and has reported asked the Philippine government to defer implementation of the road infrastructure projects pending further investigation and review of Phase 2 of the ten-year National Roads Improvement Management Program (NRIMP2) which was supposed to be funded by the above loans.
The dismal condition of Lianga's roads notwithstanding, the World Bank board's findings has merely brought out into the open a fact that many astute local observers here have been pointing out for so many years. That the reason for the delay in the upgrading and concreting of the road network servicing the municipalities of Marihatag, San Agustin and Lianga in Surigao del Sur has not been the lack of adequate funding support but the simple fact that the government's road improvement infrastructure program is so riddled with corruption and irregularities that even the World Bank cannot just sit idly by without stepping in to review, re-examine and make doubly sure that its money is going where it is supposed to be - into the building of concrete roads and bridges and not into the greedy pockets of both national and local officials as well as their cohorts in the construction industry.
Of course, the Philippine government is downplaying the significance of the World Bank board's decision and DPWH offcials are now saying that implementation of the controversial road improvement projects has not actually been canceled but have been merely "deferred" pending proper review, whatever that means. I suppose that when one has been caught with one's hand in the cookie jar, the best course of action is simply to deny the crime and say that the cookies are all still there, even if they have already telltale bite marks on them.
As the national government goes high gear into damage control over this issue, the focus for us here in Lianga shifts to our local provincial officials in the city of Tandag. What's up guys? What went wrong? Whose to blame for all this mess? And more importantly, were there other hands and fingers in the cookie jar too?
In the meantime, while we all wait for answers, the people in Lianga and its neighboring municipalities confront everyday the admittedly picturesque, if extremely bumpy, dusty and absolutely disgusting roads of our part of this glorious province and wonder. When will all our traveling nightmares ever end?
Or will it ever?