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Election ban on public works

/ 05:07 AM February 12, 2019

With the 2019 national budget already approved by Congress and awaiting the signature of President Duterte, the infrastructure projects in the administration’s “Build, Build, Build” program are expected to go full swing.

A reenacted budget would have caused funding problems to ongoing and already-approved projects, and result either in unmet completion deadlines or postponement of construction.

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With that potential problem out of the way, the road to the “golden age of infrastructure,” as Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno describes the administration’s flagship program, faces a new hurdle: the ban on public works spending from March 29 to May 12.

During that period, the government is prohibited from releasing funds for public works constructions and the hiring and movement of government personnel.

The prohibition is aimed at preventing government officials from using government resources and facilities to influence the voters in their choices for national and local elective positions.

Contractual or casual workers hired for public works projects during the period leading to the elections are vulnerable to pressure from government officials who have the authority to renew or terminate their employment contracts.

The ban has, in the past, resulted in the suspension of the construction of, for example, farm-to-market roads, bridges and similar projects that were already close to completion.

When the construction resumed after the election, the natural elements had eroded some parts of the project and therefore required their reconstruction at additional costs, or prices of the materials had gone up. It was the public who suffered in the end.

The only way out of the election ban is getting an exemption from the Commission on Elections. Aware of the schemes used by government officials in using public works projects for electioneering purposes, the Comelec has strict rules on granting exemptions.

The administration’s economic managers have served notice of their intention to secure exemption from the ban for big-ticket projects of the Department of Public Works and Highways and the Department of Transportation, including those being funded by Japan and China.

The planned request for exemption makes sense. These projects are needed yesterday and every day of delay translates to failure by the public to enjoy the fruits of their taxes that have not been otherwise diverted to the pockets of corrupt government officials.

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For projects funded by foreign credit, the delay may mean payment of administrative fees for funds already available for availment but are not drawn down by the government agency concerned because of the ban on public works spending.

On the economic side, the 45-day halt on spending would result in loss of earnings for thousands of Filipino workers (and correlative decrease in consumer spending) and suspension of procurement of construction materials. In the process, the country’s gross domestic product growth would be adversely affected.

And let’s not forget, those 45 days fall on months when the country normally enjoys good weather and therefore allows for efficient and typhoon-free construction days.

It is a given that some government officials and politicians identified with the administration would use the exemption, if granted by the Comelec, to further their political ambitions. Such an opportunity will definitely not be missed or ignored.

Although President Duterte has publicly declared he would not allow the use of government facilities and resources for political purposes, some politicians would find ways to go around that “prohibition” without inviting his or the public’s attention.

That’s a small price to pay for the benefits the public will enjoy if ongoing or already-approved infrastructure projects are allowed to continue during the campaign period.

As the saying goes, you lose some, you win some.

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TAGS: Business, election
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