Biz Buzz: GaggedBy the staff
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Never mind that the government’s economic managers have had a lot to crow about of late due to the sterling performance of the Philippine economy and a credit-rating upgrade, thanks to nimble fiscal management.
The office of Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima has circulated a memorandum to all undersecretaries, assistant secretaries and directors (a copy was given to reporters covering the DoF) clearly delineating the scope of topics that each undersecretary (in the absence of the finance chief) can speak about with authority. Apart from Purisima, only five undersecretaries and one assistant secretary were allowed to speak on behalf of the DoF covering very specific topics.
No big deal, right? Well, here’s the thing: some officials are better sources of truthful information than others (something that is true in most other government offices). And the one official who has the highest credibility among business journalists in the department has been shifted off into a job description far from his traditional expertise. (Word on the beat is that the finance chief never liked him from Day One.)
What prompted the memo?
Apparently, this official told too much of the truth again. Just last week, he said that the Philippine economy could exceed its 7-8 percent growth target if the government would roll out eight PPP projects ASAP. Common sense, right? Well, the truth-telling official forgot that the letters “PPP” are now taboo in government circles, given the difficulty the administration has been having in rolling them out (eight projects being nearly impossible for this year).
Purisima and the reporters are set to meet later this week to iron out the details of the “gag order.”—Daxim L. Lucas
Speaking of which…
While the intention of the DoF “gag order” is laudable, naughty DoF old timers are wondering whether the same strict rule applies to a so-called “super NGO” which, of late, appears to be the DoF’s official public relations agent and mouthpiece, especially when it comes to sin tax issues.
After all, the almost daily press releases dished out by this Quezon City-based NGO advocating fiscal reforms liberally quotes Finance Secretary Purisima, Internal Revenue Commissioner Kim Henares, Customs Commissioner Ruffy Biazon, House ways and means committee chair Rep. Isidro Ungab, plus a rotating stream of physicians’ organizations, association of cancer patients and survivors all with a common agenda: to push a sin tax system allegedly skewed in favor of a foreign tobacco company. Now, the question on everybody’s mind is whether Purisima’s memo will finally put a stop to this super NGO or will it now come out as the agency’s official mouthpiece?—Daxim L. Lucas
Never say die
Despite President Aquino’s decision to approve two elevated roadway projects meant to connect the South Luzon Expressway (SLEx) with the North Luzon Expressway (NLEx), one of his alter egos might have something else in mind.
According to Biz Buzz sources, Public Works Secretary Rogelio “Babes” Singson has filed no less than nine—you heard it right, nine—pleadings and rejoinders since November 2011 in a bid to overturn the Department of Justice’s opinion giving the Toll Regulatory Board (TRB) the authority over the connector road project.
The DoJ decision saying the TRB had authority over the deal was issued last March 2012 and upheld with finality in June 2012, denying several appeals filed by the DPWH.
Of course, that’s not going to stop a determined party, so Singson wrote the Office of the President recently questioning TRB’s role in the deal (never mind that the President has been heralding the twin projects of corporate rivals San Miguel and the Metro Pacific group as proof of renewed business confidence in the country).
TRB has ruled, of course, that San Miguel (by virtue of having bought into the local Citra firm) holds the original right to the connector road deal and that Metro Pacific’s proposal is a new project (and, as such, is subject to a Swiss challenge).
Previous to being appointed DPWH chief, Singson headed Maynilad Water Services Inc., which is owned by Metro Pacific.—Daxim L. Lucas
Unfazed by TRB-DPWH debate
San Miguel Corp. president Ramon S. Ang is unfazed by reports that the Department of Public Works and Highways was questioning in Malacañang the authority of the Toll Regulatory Board (TRB) to facilitate the implementation of the road alignment for the North Luzon-South Luzon Expressway connector road to be undertaken by the conglomerate in partnership with the Citra group of Indonesia.
Ang said he had heard of such “delay” in the TRB’s processing of the San Miguel-Citra project but noted that President Aquino’s word would suffice. Amid a heated debate on which between the rival connector roads had the better alignment, Malacañang had earlier taken the middle ground by allowing both projects espoused by rivals San Miguel and Metro Pacific groups to proceed. “The President has given the go-ahead for both of us to proceed so I don’t know of any objection of any party. I heard about the problem but I don’t know yet,” he said.
P-Noy announced during Monday’s State-of-the-Nation Address that both connector roads would be finished by 2015. Ang said the San Miguel group would abide by the President’s directive. “We can finish by 2015,” he said.—Doris C. Dumlao
Trading seat auction
Fancy owning a trading seat at the Philippine Stock Exchange? The local bourse is set to auction the trading right of Sapphire Securities Philippines Inc., which had operated a stockbrokerage business since the old Manila Stock Exchange days. It was previously run by retired banker Joselin Fragada. The PSE has set the deadline for the registration and submission requirements on August 31 this year while the submission of bids is set on September 30.
Based on stock market estimates, it will cost P10 million to P12 million to buy a seat at the demutualized local stock exchange.—Doris C. Dumlao
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