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Infra spending growth at 8-month low in February

Cabinet secretaries outline infrastructure projects under the Build! Build! Build! program during the DuterteNomics Forum at Conrad Manila in Pasay City yesterday. Photo shows (from left) presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella, Transport Secretary Arthur Tugade,  Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, NEDA chief Ernesto Pernia and DPWH Secretary Mark Villar. The STAR/Krizjohn Rosales

MANILA, Philippines - The Duterte administration started the year recording its slowest growth in infrastructure spending since it took over, data from the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) showed.

A total of P43.3 billion was spent for capital outlays in February, up just one percent from January's level of P42.9 billion.
Compared to the same month last year, outlays rose 2.6 percent from P42.2 billion, the slowest year-on-year expansion since July's 0.8 percent when President Rodrigo Duterte spent his first full month in office. 
Comparative year-on-year data for January was not provided. Analysts have said last year's figures may have been distorted by faster spending ahead of an election ban on disbursements.
Capital outlays included money spent for actual infrastructure and those lent to local governments and state companies for the same purpose.
The latest data was released days after the "Dutertenomics" forum where economic managers unveiled an ambitious infrastructure plan worth P8.6 trillion until 2022.
"Some big-spending departments were not able to fully utilize their respective NCA allocations (in February)," the DBM said in a statement.
These departments or agencies are currently obligating their programs and projects, while the implementation of some are also ongoing that at this early stage, payments have not been fully made," it added.
NCA pertains to notice of cash allocation, the last document obtained by agencies from DBM to get checks from the Bureau of the Treasury.
Once checks are secured to pay for projects and services, they are deemed spent and therefore reflected in the disbursement performance.
In February, the NCA utilization rate - or the percentage of those which were used to get checks and those still with agencies - went down to 82 percent from 89 percent a year ago.
According to DBM, those with unutilized NCAs included the departments of Transportation (DOTr) and Public Works and Highways (DPWH), the government's main infrastructure agencies.
DOTr had P7.7 billion in unused NCAs last February, accounting for 31 percent of total releases. DPWH had a larger 83 percent worth P5.6 billion. 
For the first two months, capital outlays rose 4.6 percent to P86.1 billion, DBM data showed.
Broken down, funds directly spent for infrastructure went up a faster 8.3 percent to P69.6 billion. 
However, the two-month performance still paled in comparison with previous months' worth of double-digit growth. For instance, capital outlays ended 2016 expanding 38.9 percent.
"Infrastructure and other capital expenditures reached almost P70 billion...,owing to the implementation of road infrastructure program and flood control projects of the DPWH as well as the P1.9 billion capital contribution to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB)," DBM said.
Without the AIIB capital contribution, infrastructure spending increased a slower 5.3 percent to P67.7 billion. 
AIIB is the China-led multilateral lender from which the government can borrow funds for infrastructure in the future.
The government has allotted P847.2 billion of its P3.35-trillion budget to infrastructure this year in a bid to bridge the country's infrastructure gap and support economic growth.
Earlier, Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno promised there will be no government underspending, similar to the experience of the previous administration.
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