World Bank: BRT still viable

By Morexette Marie B. Erram |June 13,2018 - 10:15 PM

IMPLEMENTING the P17-billion stalled Cebu Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project still remains a viable solution on addressing traffic congestion in Cebu City.

This was the assessment of the World Bank (WB) in its Implementation Status and Results Report released on Monday, June 11, despite giving the BRT’s Project Development Objectives (PDO) criteria a lower grade, from moderately satisfactory last year to moderately unsatisfactory this year, and amid calls from the Department of Transportation (DOTr) to cancel it.

“The May 15 to 23 joint WB and AFD (Agence Française de Développement) mission concluded that the project, as designed, is technically viable and that moving forward will allow to optimize the project design,” WB said in the six-page report.

“The implementation of the BRT will provide support to improving traffic management and organization of public transportation in Cebu, while providing a reliable and comfortable public transportation mode to Cebu residents within a couple of years,” the report added.

Fate of the BRT, which has been in the pipeline for long, is still hanging by a thread especially after recent developments, including President Rodrigo Duterte’s pronouncements that he would be leaving the matter for DOTr Secretary Arthur Tugade to decide.

But the WB, the world’s largest financial institution that grants loans to fund capital projects of countries, said they would respect whatever decision the Philippine government would reach on the BRT project.

In 2014, the WB and AFD granted the Philippine government US$198-million worth of loan to fund the BRT.

But the project has yet to be fully implemented due to multiple delays, and its target completion date has been moved from 2016 to 2021.

While admitting that the “moderately unsatisfactory” rating given by the WB frightened him, Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña vowed to continue fighting to have the BRT project, his brainchild, realized.

“It scares me. This is the product of people working against (the BRT). I have done everything I could but I will do whatever is left on my power,” Osmeña told reporters in a press conference yesterday.

Tugade and World Bank

The WB’s report came three days after, in a closed-door meeting, Tugade met with several of its officials to brief them on the status of the BRT in Lapu-Lapu City last Saturday, June 9. DOTr is the implementing agency for BRT.

In their report, WB attributed the delays on implementing the BRT to the DOTr’s lack of decision and hesitation to proceed with it, trimming down the Project Implementation Unit (BRT-PIU) staff from 40 to 13 last April, and the absence of a Technical Support Consultant (TSC).

“Since January 2018, the project has been put on hold by DOTr following concerns about its viability given narrow street and increased congestion in Cebu,” WB said.

It can be recalled that last April 11, DOTr sent a letter to Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, who chairs the National Economic and Development Authority Investment Coordination Committee (Neda-ICC), expressing their intentions to scrap the BRT.

Among others, DOTr cited that existing narrow streets, and a continuing increase in the number of vehicles in Cebu City, would only result to the BRT as a failure instead of a solution.

But Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia, who co-chairs the Neda-ICC, said they gave DOTr until June 30 to come up with an alternative short-term solution, or a strong evidence against BRT, if they wanted to cancel it.

These developments prompted WB on recommending to extend the contract of the existing staff of the BRT-PIU up to September 2018.

“This is to ensure continuity in case the Philippine government decides to move forward with the project or undertake closing out activities if the Philippine government decides otherwise,” the WB explained.

‘Not that bad’

But while a slip in the PDO rating is a concern for Osmeña, for Cebu City Administrator Nigel Paul Villarete, it serves as a reflection on the performance of DOTr on implementing the BRT project.

“It’s just a rating on the status of implementation. We slipped one rank down, from moderately satisfactory to moderately unsatisfactory. But it’s not that bad or critical. This is just moderate. It’s a reflection of how DOTr was implementing the project,” said Villarete.

According to WB, the PDOs on their projects were intended to “convey what the project intends to achieve”.

Having a “moderately unsatisfactory” rating meant that the BRT, at this point, may not be able to fully accomplish its objectives, which is to solve the growing traffic problem in Cebu City.
WB also pointed out in the report that the BRT’s performance, in terms of financial aspect, has been stationary since the first quarter of 2017.

Villarete explained to reporters that this is due to the absence of TSC.

“This is because there’s minimal loan disbursements since the TSC was not mobilized. It should have been mobilized during the second half of 2016, but DOTr didn’t. It’s all reflected in the two Annual Observation Memorandums (AOMs) from the Commission on Audit (COA). Without the TSC, all other activities slowed down,” said Villarete.

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