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Balisacan urged to review Duterte’s infrastructure projects

Richmond Mercurio - The Philippine Star
Balisacan urged to review Duterteâs infrastructure projects
In a statement, Infrawatch PH convenor Terry Ridon said Arsenio Balisacan, as the new NEDA chief, should prioritize which infrastructure projects to continue, suspend, cancel or transform into public-private partnerships in order to effectively manage the country’s climbing debt load.
The STAR / Michael Varcas

MANILA, Philippines — Infrastructure-oriented think tank Infrawatch PH has urged incoming socioeconomic planning secretary Arsenio Balisacan to review ongoing and indicative infrastructure projects under the Duterte administration, which could include cancelation of controversial deals.

In a statement, Infrawatch PH convenor Terry Ridon said Balisacan, as the new NEDA chief, should prioritize which infrastructure projects to continue, suspend, cancel or transform into public-private partnerships in order to effectively manage the country’s climbing debt load.

Ridon said managing the massive spending on infrastructure projects is critical to ensuring that social programs for housing and cash aid would continue under the incoming administration.

“By putting brakes on foreign loans to fund our infrastructure ambitions, government will be able to look to the private sector to develop viable infrastructure projects,” he said.

“This will provide government breathing space to reduce the country’s debt below the current 63.5 percent of our gross domestic product,” Ridon said.

Ridon warned that if the incoming administration continues with the current government’s infrastructure trajectory of massive spending on the back of foreign loans, there might not be enough cash left to build houses, schools and health centers and to distribute cash aid during crises.

He said social programs should be the core agenda of the new administration, given that the vast majority of its mandate comes from the marginalized socioeconomic classes.

“We have reached this point no thanks to the outgoing administration’s infrastructure ambitions, not even half of which had in fact been completed or are ongoing. But this will certainly result in serious belt-tightening under the new administration on social programs aimed at directly benefiting the public, such as housing and cash aid,” he said.

According to Ridon, canceling controversial infrastructure deals undertaken under the current administration would be an immediate source of fiscal space in infrastructure projects.

“The new government should outrightly cancel infrastructure deals that had been subjected to a negative report by the Commission on Audit, such as the Kaliwa Dam project, in which the audit commission said that there appeared to have been a simulated bid by Chinese contractors. These types of activities should have no place under a new government,” he said.

Ridon said projects that employ foreign laborers should also be canceled, as this deprives the country’s great mass of construction workers of employment.

“An infrastructure deal like the recently inaugurated China-funded bridges should not be allowed in the new government, as nearly half of the project workforce were Chinese workers. How can we stimulate a post-COVID economy if foreign workers compete with our own workers?” he said.

Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) Undersecretary and Build Build Build chief implementer Emil Sadain, in a recent statement, said implementation of large-scale infrastructure projects properly reviewed by the National Economic and Development Authority-Investment Coordination Committee (NEDA-ICC) board deserves continuity to ensure economic progress and recovery from the pandemic.

Sadain said the much-needed flagship infrastructure projects to bridge the infrastructure gap in the country would be the key drivers if not the main driver of the country’s economic recovery.

He said projects have already been rolled out and the incoming administration just need to push it and continue towards building a strong economy.

According to the DPWH, the current administration is expected to complete at least 19 big-ticket flagship infrastructure projects until the end of President Duterte’s term this June 30, with 12 more for completion by the end of December.

The agency said at least 35 on-going projects are scheduled for completion in 2023, while 10 projects under detailed engineering design stage are expected to start civil works next year and onwards.

It further said that 20 projects are undergoing review and evaluation of the NEDA-ICC, while five are under project preparation.

INFRASTRUCTURE

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