Customs Commissioner Alberto Lina as well as two former customs officials is facing charges of plunder and graft for cancelling a P650-million deal on a Bureau of Customs (BOC) IT system.
Annabelle Margaroli, president of mobile IT solutions provider Omni Prime Marketing, Inc., filed before the Office of the Ombudsman on July 2 a 30-page complaint against Lina, former Customs Commissioner Guillermo Parayno, Jr., and former deputy commissioner Primo Aguas.
Margaroli in her complaint cited “criminal conflict of interest” against the three for cancelling the Integrated Enhanced Customs Processing System (IECPS) and National Single Window (NSW) Phase 2 project.
The Department of Budget and Management-Procurement Service (DBM-PS) started bidding out the project in October 2014.
Margaroli said former Customs Commissioner John Phillip Sevilla had already awarded the contract to the joint venture of Omni Prime and Greece’s Intrasoft International, but Lina on May 6, two weeks of being sworn into office, cancelled the contract.
The complainant said the IECPS would have served as a single entry point for import and export transactions, and the system offered by Omni Prime would have curbed rampant smuggling in the country.
The cancellation leaves BOC with the old system which allegedly gives undue favor to value-added service provider E-Konek Pilipinas, the complainant said. Lina and his family have a 96.48% stake in the company, and Parayno is E-Konek’s current president.
“The cancellation by Lina was a grave instance of a criminal conflict of interest, manifest illegal partiality and malevolent bad faith because it benefitted E-Konek Pilipinas,” the complainant stated.
E-Konek, one of the three VASPs accredited by BOC, was one of the disqualified bidders of the IT project. The joint venture of Omni Prime and Intrasoft was the only bidder to pass eligibility.
“E-Konek Pilipinas as an existing service provider of the BOC stands to continue reaping benefits from the perpetuation of the current inefficient and dysfunctional system,” the complainant added.
Moreover, Margaroli said, the respondents are liable for plunder because the system managed by E-Konek is valued between P100 million and P500 million annually.
Margaroli said Lina and Aguas conspired to give benefit to E-Konek and thus give financial perks to Lina and his business for not less than P50 million, or the threshold for plunder.
She said that even though Aguas was not part of the BOC’s bids and awards committee, he required Omni-Intrasoft to undergo interviews which delayed the project for nearly two months.
In a statement on June 1, Lina said he cancelled the IT project after determining that market conditions have changed, and that other customs data systems that may be more efficient, cost-effective, and advantageous to the government.
Looking at Asycuda
In a chance interview with PortCalls on June 26, Lina said the bureau will use the Automated System for Customs Data (Asycuda) instead because it is cheaper.
He noted that Asycuda—a computerized customs management system developed by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development that covers most foreign trade procedures such as manifests and customs declarations, accounting procedures, transit, and suspense procedures—is being used in other countries.
Aguas, in an interview with PortCalls in March, already said Asycuda was one of the options BOC was looking at in case the bidding for an IECPS failed.
Moreover, Lina said that under the bidding process, the head of the agency procuring the project has final approval. He claimed that Omni Prime was aware of this procedure.
A source from BOC said Sevilla was never able to award a physical contract to the joint venture of Omni Prime and Intrasoft since he had left BOC by the time Omni Prime announced it was picked as the highest bidder.
BOC, as of this writing, has yet to issue a statement on the case. An official at the Office of the Commissioner said Lina has yet to receive a copy of the complaint. – Text and photo by Roumina Pablo