Are infra plans just all talk?

- Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - February 24, 2017 - 11:35pm

My friend, Budget Secretary Ben Diokno is at it again. Sec Ben keeps on talking about the Duterte administration’s plan to spend as much as P8 trillion on infrastructures over the medium term. But eight months into their watch, it had still been all talk.

I realize it takes time to get the bureaucracy to warm up to the grand plans Ben had been enthusiastic about. But by this time the administration should be able to tell us how they will carry out all those projects, and also some timeframes.

So the budget chief is saying money will not be a problem. Of course we know the tax reform proposal of Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez is still up in the air. But the long term NEDA bureaucrats are against PPP, so where  will  they get the money? Maybe they can start with the foreign funded projects just so we can see some action on the ground. 

But the usual ODA route will not do, based on experience. I am looking for a credible plan on how the well meaning Cabinet members in the economic cluster will get these nice dreams going. I want to hear them say they will overcome the usual roadblocks with government projects by going government-to-government with donor countries like China and Japan. 

I proposed in a previous column that they adopt the turn key approach. This means they go to China, for example, give China the specs and agree on the cost for a Tutuban to Legaspi or Matnog PNR South line and let China work on it with no interference from any Filipino government official and deliver within an agreed timeframe. The next time a Filipino official gets in the picture is to inspect compliance to the specs and then to accept the symbolic key to start operations.

 That assumes there is no right of way problem or PNR or DOTr would have taken care of the ROW requirements prior to project start. This turnkey approach takes care of problems related to bureaucratic inertia, lack of technical expertise and political interference. 

DOTr Sec. Art Tugade should welcome this approach because he has too many projects in his hands and he doesn’t have enough qualified staff nor does he fully control the bureaucracy under him. By letting Japan or China take care of project construction and delivery, we can be sure President Duterte will be able to inaugurate some projects before he steps down from office.

 Don’t believe any Filipino bureaucrat who says they should have control and that they are capable of managing construction. Just take a look at the four kilometer Masinag extension of LRT2. It’s been 10 years since they thought of doing this and they are still nowhere near completion. Doing the PNR North and South Lines will take them an eternity.

 According to Sec. Diokno, a delegation from China is supposed to be here now to further discuss the approval and implementation of the infrastructure projects we want them to fund. “We’re fleshing out the projects. They (the Chinese government) are really gung-ho about this,” Diokno said. 

“I was talking to the Chinese ambassador, he wants the projects to move within the next six months, that fast,” the Budget Secretary added. 

Great! Does that mean we have a six month period to move the paperwork and break ground? We have to move fast to take advantage of the funding country’s enthusiasm. Delays may cause them to cool down or move funds meant for our projects elsewhere. 

I think Sec. Ben should realize by now that talking about the administration’s infra construction dream is starting to be counterproductive. It builds up high expectations and will likely deliver strong disappointment. We need to see timelines with more or less firm deadlines. Beware the perils of Mar Roxas and Jun Abaya! 

Aside from the rail projects, Sec. Ben also revealed that DPWH Secretary Mark Villar has proposed the construction of 13 bridges spanning the Pasig River. Wow, ha! 13 bridges and we are only hoping for two or three now.

 “This wouldn’t be a normal bridge, he wants something iconic like the ones in London and France, really beautiful, with bike lanes, etc.,” Diokno said. 

Sec. Ben said the additional bridges across the Pasig River would give motorists more road choices, therefore helping decongest EDSA. “When you’re in Bonifacio (Global City) and you want to go to Pasig, you would still have to drive to EDSA. You’ll just be a nuisance,” he said. 

Actually, the one other person we need to hear from is Sec. Villar. We are starting to suspect he is going to be a clone of Cabinet members in the past administration who were afraid to do anything but, generous in dishing out wonderful project ideas.

 Let’s get going on at least two of the most urgent Pasig bridges, Sec. Mark. We can forget the frills on the bridges for now and just get the bridges constructed so that, as Sec. Ben said those going to Pasig won’t be a nuisance on EDSA. While he is at it, Sec. Mark should get going too on C-6 to reduce the number of trucks using C-5. 

Sec. Villar should visit MWSS and get the water projects started. Having an additional water source for Metro Manila is one urgent requirement that one administration after another somehow failed to do. Sec. Diokno says the $374.03-million New Centennial Water Source-Kaliwa Dam project in Quezon is on their priority list. 

And to make us salivate some more, Sec. Ben enumerated the other big ticket projects they say they will do to usher in a golden age of infrastructure: 

Aside from the railway project from Tutuban to Matnog, Sorsogon they are thinking of a bridge project from Matnog, Sorsogon to Samar to link Luzon to the Visayas and another bridge from Leyte to Surigao. Diokno also said the government wants a fast train from Clark, Pampanga to Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

Some of the proposed projects submitted to China for possible financing and feasibility study support include: the $53.6-million Chico River Pump Irrigation project covering Cagayan and Kalinga, and the $3.01-billion South Line segment of the North to South Railway spanning Manila to the Bicol region.

 Don’t talk of more projects, Sec. Diokno. Just show us the Duterte team is capable of implementing the important ones you have been talking about. Then again, I am told I should think more positively.

Positive thinking

 Doctor : Your liver is enlarged.

Patient : Does that mean it has space for more whisky?

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco


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