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Slow pace of economic bills

Barring a miraculous change of heart by the members of Congress, the corporate life of Philippine National Railways (PNR) will expire on June 19.

Although the extension of its charter, Republic Act No. 1546, has been approved at the committee level in the Senate, there is no assurance it will be taken up in plenary before Congress adjourns on June 13.

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But even if approved ahead of that date, its enactment is still a big question mark because it has to go through a bicameral conference committee for the reconciliation of conflicting provisions, if any.

After the committee members have come to terms, the final version will be sent back to both houses of Congress for ratification.

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It is unfortunate our senators have not found the time to discuss this critical transportation system. They have their hands full attending to the Napoles-linked pork barrel scam.

To aggravate matters, the Department of Transportation and Communications, the government agency that should be most concerned about PNR’s continued operation, is hardly a factor in speedily securing the extension.

The laid-back or what-do-I-care attitude does not come as surprise. No money or “pork barrel benefits can be gained from PNR’s mass-based transportation system.

Extension

The story would be different if the extension relates to the legislative franchise of a profitable corporation, say, an airline or telecommunications company.

The applicable bill will be immediately calendared for committee hearing, plenary deliberation and voting.

Expect most, if not all, committee members to attend the hearings. They will scrutinize the bill and put the company officials through the wringer to, if their drumbeating is to be believed, “ensure that the interests of the public are protected.”

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Of course, with the right amount of explanations (preferably in eight digits), all objections to the extension of the franchise can be withdrawn and the bill enacted into law pronto.

Sorry, but PNR does not have the features that can draw the interest of our lawmakers in the same manner that carcasses attract vultures.

No freebies or special privileges can be given by PNR to congressmen and senators without incurring the ire of the public or getting into trouble with the Commission on Audit.

Neither can contracts for the delivery of equipment or provisioning of services be awarded to the lawmakers’ favored companies without complying with strict bidding or procurement rules.

In other words, there are no “pork barrel” incentives in PNR’s charter that can motivate our honorable (ugh!) legislators into giving it priority in their calendar.

Pending bills

The treatment being given to PNR is characteristic of the manner Congress has been attending to the bills that the National Economic and Development Authority and various local and foreign business organizations have repeatedly asked it to act on.

These measures are aimed at, among others, encouraging investments, streamlining business processes and creating job opportunities for our people, in particular, those who belong to the lower strata of our society.

Double digit growths in our gross national product are meaningless if they do not translate to a better life for the majority of our people.

The economic bills that have remained in the pipeline, although described as urgent, include the enactment of a Consolidated Investments and Incentives Code, Tax Incentives Management and Transparency Act and Anti-Trust Act.

Also pending in Congress are proposed amendments to the Cabotage Law, Build-Operate-Transfer Law and Electric Power Industry Reform Act.

These bills are stuck in various levels of dormancy in committee hearings or technical working groups, or waiting to be calendared for deliberations in either house of Congress.

Only God knows when the lawmakers will find the time or energy to terminate the committee hearings, submit the final drafts for plenary deliberations and vote on them.

Consideration

If we use the performance record of Congress in 2013 as barometer, there is reason to be worried that only a few, or worse, none, of these important economic bills will ripen into law this year.

In 2013, the only accomplishments of Congress were the national budget and a one-page Republic Act 10632 that suspended the 2013 Sangguniang Kabataan elections.

The national budget was speedily approved because it contained pork barrel projects that the lawmakers wanted to lay their hands so they can enjoy their accompanying kickbacks.

There were tremendous financial incentives for quick action on the budget law, never mind if some appropriations were unnecessary or wasteful.

The suspension of youth elections was a breeze because Malacañang gave the marching orders and the lawmakers did not want to displease the hands that controlled the release of pork barrel funds.

For this fantastic legislative accomplishment, the Filipino taxpayers shelled out P35.2 billion as budget for the two houses of Congress and their pork barrel allocations.

If a bill as uncomplicated as extension of PNR’s charter can take months to hurdle the committee level, just imagine how long it would take to deliberate on complex economic bills on investment incentives, tax rationalization, consumer protection and electric power development.

Anybody who can come up with an action plan that will encourage or “incentivize” our lawmakers into promptly attending to these economic bills (as fast as approving pork barrel projects funds) will be doing the country an invaluable favor.

For comments, please send your email to “[email protected]

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TAGS: Congress, economic bills, economy, Philippine National Railways (PNR), Philippines
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