Rebuilding Marawi: Gov't giving Chinese firms once blacklisted by World Bank a chance

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 24) — Government officials on Thursday defended two Chinese companies negotiating with the government to rebuild the most damaged areas in war-torn Marawi.

The Palace and Task Force Bangon Marawi downplayed concerns about China State Construction Engineering Corp. Ltd. (CSCEC) and China Geo-Engineering Corp. (CGC) which were blacklisted by the World Bank in 2009 over alleged anomalies in a road project in the Philippines.

The two firms are now part of the Bagong Marawi Consortium, composed of Chinese and Filipino companies selected by the government to come up with a plan to rebuild 250 hectares of Marawi's ground zero. The government is rehabilitating Marawi after the five-month war between government forces and pro-ISIS extremists from May to October last year.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque stressed that the Chinese firms have already served their sanctions and now deserve a second chance.

"Everyone is entitled to a second opportunity. Pero mamasdan din po natin, magmamasid tayo, magmamatyag ang taong bayan (But we will be vigilant)," Roque said in a press briefing in Marawi.

The World Bank debarred CSCEC, CGC, and five other firms in 2009 due to alleged collusion to rig the bidding process of a World Bank-financed project in the Philippines, the National Roads Improvement and Management Program (NRIMP). This stopped the World Bank from awarding $33 million (Over P1.7 billion at the current exchange rate) for the project.

The World Bank then described it as "one of our most important and far-reaching cases and it highlights the effectiveness of the World Bank's investigative and sanctions process."

But this is now a thing of the past, Task Force Bangon Marawi Chairperson and Housing Secretary Eduardo Del Rosario said.

"Even World Bank gave projects to the Chinese State Construction way back in 2016. The blacklisting is not active anymore," del Rosario said in the same press briefing.

He added there would be no problem in the bidding process this time because the Bagong Marawi Consortium will have to win the project under a Swiss challenge, a bidding process that allows rivals to submit competing offers. Everything will be transparent as the consortium's proposal will be published in national broadsheets, giving other companies three weeks to steal the deal.

Local government officials, however, have expressed concerns over the involvement of previously-blacklisted firms in the rehabilitation of Marawi.

"Legally speaking and technically speaking, there is no problem with that. But morally speaking, the reconstruction or development of Marawi City should be devoid of stigma of impropriety so that we can't afford any cloud of doubt as to who will undertake the development and reconstruction of Marawi City," Marawi Mayor Majul Usman Gandamra said in a press briefing Wednesday, as the country commemorated one year since the ISIS-linked Maute group attacked Marawi.

Lanao del Sur Crisis Management Committee spokesperson Zia Adiong urged the government to carefully study the situation before awarding the project to firms with "questionable past."