There was at time when ghost projects were a dime a dozen. These generally include anomalous infrastructure works that were announced to have been completed, but in reality only small portions of which exist, or sometimes none at all.
These often happen in far or remote regions, which is why you could find yourself driving on a trail that has patches of pavement scattered along its path; places that the national government would rarely -if at all- actually inspect.
Now much has changed according to Secretary Mark Villar, the head of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) when President Duterte started his term in 2016. During the recent forum of the Society of Philippine Motoring Journalists, Sec. Villar spoke of how the department is making full use of today's technologies not only to prevent ghost projects, but to monitor progress in real time and prevent issues.
“In fairness to DPWH and ghost projects, I have yet to encounter that sort of anomaly,” said DPWH Secretary Villar. “I think that's primarily because of the modernization of the systems of the DPWH. Before it was done manually, now we have integrated project monitoring systems”
The key technology behind the new integrated project monitoring system that Villar is referring to is geotagging, and the DPWH has started the full implementation of it this year.
The benefits to the DPWH -and the public- are very clear. Whereas before, contractors can submit printed photos that could have been taken anywhere, they now have to submit digital images with geographical metadata automatically recorded into the image. What that means is every image has coordinates that they can use to pinpoint the exact location in the country where the photo was taken, and confirm via satellite if the project actually exists or is completed.
“For every project in the system, satellite photos will be necessary in order to release payments,” said Sec. Villar. “There's no possibility for ghost projects. The coordinates of these pictures will be confirmed by satellite.”
Sec. Villar says he can personally and instantly verify the progress and completion of the projects in real time via a special DPWH monitoring app that he has on his computer and smartphone. Only when the project is completed will the government pay the contractors for the new road.
“Even for me, in terms of monitoring any of our 20,000 projects I can instantly access them,” continued Villar. “I can check the progress and see the latest pictures of the construction.”
While the system may not be perfect, Villar says that their monitoring system virtually eliminates the possibility of ghost projects in line with President Duterte's drive for a clean government.
Under Philippine law, projects that turn out to be anomalous can and will likely be treated as cases of plunder. Geotagging tech can help not only in the prevention of such projects, but empower the agency to build much needed roads and infrastructure with confidence that public funds won't be misused.
And when you're talking about the DPWH's annual budget that is pegged at PhP 550 billion for 2019, having confidence in the accountability definitely matters.