THE DEPARTMENT of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) owes two of the country’s major telecommunication companies at least P1.5 billion for the government’s free public WiFi program.
“Right now, for free WiFi, payables that’s less than P2 billion,” DICT Assistant Secretary Heherson M. Asiddao told the House Appropriations Committee.
“For PLDT (Inc.) the claims goes to around P1 billion. For Globe (Telecom, Inc.) I think it’s about close to P500 million,” Mr. Asiddao said.
When asked why there are unpaid dues, Mr. Asiddao said the source of the funds were part of the 2022 budget, which expired in Dec. 31 last year.
The P1.5 billion owed to the two telecom companies is set to be released by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) by the third quarter of the year.
He noted the payables for the free WiFi program are logged under the DICT’s P3.5 billion worth of documented total payables, while its payables without contract are at P1 billion.
“Right now, we’re still reconciling our records,” he said.
DBM Chief Budget Management Specialist Mark James S. Evangelista told congressmen that the DICT may request an earlier release of the funds for their payables “as long as the agency may [provide] the mandatory requirements needed.”
House Senior Minority Leader and Northern Samar Rep. Paul R. Daza pointed out that these delayed payments have scared away other telecommunication service providers from participating in the government’s program.
“No one would bid for the free public WiFi because there are payables to the large telcos who provide for now the bandwidth,” he told the panel.
Globe, for its part, said communication lines with the department are open on the matter.
“Globe is in constant communication with the DICT on the collection of these receivables,” Yoly C. Crisanto, chief sustainability and corporate communications officer, said in a Viber chat.
Mr. Asiddao said the DICT seeks to improve its budget utilization rate to 32% by the end of August, higher than its 19% utilization rate in the same month last year.
“We deemed it more appropriate that we should have a diligent effort to review all the programs set by the previous administration for 2023… so what happened was we reorganized things,” he said.
“By Oct. of 2023, we’ll have utilization rate of about 50%, compared to the prior year [where] the utilization rate is only 23% and by the end of 2023, our conservative target will be at about 80% utilization rate, compared to the 32% utilization rate that was achieved end of 2022,” Mr. Asiddao said.
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