Philippine government faces tough ICT road

The Philippine government is now looking to rise above controversies over two major ICT projects, and create a positive impact in the local industry.

PHILIPPINES--The country's ICT industry has been struggling to overcome controversies which recently plagued two major government projects, but one government agency is now aiming to reclaim its stake and create an impact in the local ICT market.

Two of the biggest controversies to make headlines in recent memory involved the country's ICT-related projects, the National Broadband Network and MegaPacific poll computerization programs.

Although this is not the first time the government had entered into questionable contracts, the resulting fallout has cast doubt on the country's ICT field. However, for a country eager to ride on the wave of technology revolution, the Philippines seems to have no other recourse but to move on and extract lessons from these irregularities.

In this aspect, the government's main ICT agency, the Commission on Information and Communications Technology (CICT), has found itself in the limelight.

The CICT, however, has its own share of troubles since its creation about four years ago. A number of attached units, such as the National Telecommunications Office (NTC) and Telecommunications Office (Telof), have all been pulled out from the agency. The heads and commissioners have also come and gone over the past few years.

Bereft of the clout inherent in a department, the agency's new chief Ray Anthony Roxas-Chua III, is eyeing to change its tactics in an attempt to create more impact for ICT projects in the public sector.

According to CICT commissioner Timoteo Diaz De Rivera, the agency now wants to concentrate on a few big-ticket implementations rather than focus on small projects that may not create an impression on the value of technology in government processes.

One of these initiatives, De Rivera said in an interview, is the iSchool project which aims to provide teachers and students access to relevant educational digital content and applications, by setting up Internet laboratories in selected public high schools.

The project, which has a budget of 400 million pesos (or an estimated US$10 million), was started by the agency in 2006 and is now in its second phase. "We want to direct our time and resources on these types of project that will strengthen the IT competency of the country in the long run," De Rivera told ZDnet Asia.

Under the ICT masterplan drawn up by the government, the Philippines has set a goal of generating one million BPO (business process outsourcing) and tech-related jobs by 2010.

Currently, there are two categories of government ICT projects that the CICT is involved in: the first includes initiatives which the CICT is itself implementing, while the other involves projects across the bureaucracy in which CICT is acting as the overseer or advisory body.

Among those in the first set are projects such as Community e-Center, eLGU--Jumpstarting Electronic Governance in Local Government, eGovernment Portal and e-University Network. Included in the second list are automation projects by the Bureau of Customs, Bureau of Food and Drugs, Civil Service Commission, Department of Budget and Management, Department of Finance, and Department of Health.

Howeve, both lists are replete with initiatives that are either unfinished, abandoned, under dispute, or have simply run out of funds.

For instance, the Telepono sa Barangay (Telephone for the Villages), a project of the CICT together with the Department of Transportation and Communications, has been repeatedly pilloried in the media for spending millions of pesos setting up payphones in the countryside when mobile phones would have been the better solution.

Another is the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System, which goal was to establish a communications network for distress alerting and dissemination of maritime safety to ships and person on board. Started in 2000, it has since been abandoned after a dispute with the contractor, leading to the deterioration of equipment already deployed in the project sites.

But not all projects saw bad outcomes. Some of the CICT's pet initiatives have attained a considerable level of success and have contributed to the ICT competitiveness of the Philippines. Projects such as eLGU, which seeks to provide a Web template for local government units, and eGovernment Portal, are some of these examples.

Whether the Philippine government can further improve its batting average in terms of successful deployment of ICT projects, remains to be seen.

The Asian country has, however, obtained a favorable assessment this year from research house IDC, which predicted that ICT spending in the Philippines will reach $2.03 billion in 2008.

IDC said: "Under the current administration, ICT has already become a buzzword, contributing immensely to the country's economic growth with programs, such as the Philippine Cyberservices Corridor Program and the continued implementation of various government automation projects."

Melvin G. Calimag is a freelance IT writer based in the Philippines.

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