Economic team to ask Duterte: Exempt big-ticket infra from election ban
MANILA, Philippines – The economic team would ask President Rodrigo Duterte to exempt implementation of big-ticket infrastructure projects from the election ban in order to catch up with the lost opportunities due to delayed approval of the proposed P3.757-trillion 2019 national budget, the country’s chief economist said Monday.
In a press conference, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto M. Pernia said economic managers at the Cabinet meeting scheduled on February 6 would propose a “blanket” of priority projects and programs they would seek exemption from the Commission on Elections (Comelec) ban on government spending ahead of midterm elections in May.
Pernia, who heads the state planning agency National Economic and Development Authority (Neda), said projects of “national significance” would be spared from the election ban.
“A blanket report for Malacañang will be better, so there’s not much paperwork involved,” the Neda chief said, adding he would confer with the rest of the economic team on the nitty-gritty of the proposal.
Pernia said infrastructure projects to be rolled out by the Departments of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), and Transportation (DOTr) can be exempted.
Neda Assistant Secretary Jonathan L. Uy said agencies needed to apply for each of their projects, but there could be a “common” proposal to cover all of the projects to be sought exemption from the Comelec ban.
Uy explained that some projects already underwent advanced procurement last year but were short of award of contracts as the funding were supposed to be sourced from the national budget.
For instance, engineering works and right-of-way acquisition costs needed to be funded by the delayed budget, Uy said.
The proposal will also cover ongoing projects that need new procurement, he added.
The government is currently operating under a reenacted budget as this year’s appropriations stalled in Congress amid allegations of “pork barrel” insertions and kickbacks among lawmakers, who had also implicated Budget Secretary Benjamin E. Diokno for alleged conflict of interest with certain infrastructure projects.
Uy added that some of the flagship infrastructure projects under the ambitious “Build, Build, Build” program that earlier secured Japanese and Chinese financing—including the first subway system in Metro Manila as well as the massive railway system that will connect Clark Freeport Zone to Laguna—“will be affected by the current budget impasse.”
According to Uy, the Comelec ban on new government projects, programs as well as hiring already started in the middle of January and would extend until the middle of June.
But Uy said exemption from the Comelec’s spending ban would still be contingent on the approval of the 2019 national budget.
Leaders of Congress had said this year’s budget proposal would be passed by early February.
Last week, Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III said the delayed approval of this year’s budget will cost the government P46 billion in the first quarter.
Dominguez lamented that “our GDP [gross domestic product] for the first quarter is certainly going to be affected” by the implementation of the reenacted budget at the start of the year. /kga
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