MANILA, Philippines – In a comprehensive and pragmatic assessment of the country’s potentials, former finance secretary Roberto de Ocampo said infrastructure is key to move the country forward.
At the Arangkada business forum on Thursday, January 26, De Ocampo said the government will attribute the slower growth rate in 2011 vis-a-vis 2010 to factors beyond its influence, but “main reason for the less stellar performance is massive underspending on infrastructure.”
“The main area to move faster are infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructure,” he stressed at one point during his speech before members of foreign business chambers, local businessmen, and advocates in Pasay City.
He cited the poor state of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), the main gateway to the country, that had figured on top of lists of worst airport in the world.
“With all due respect Sec. Domingo, landing in NAIA indicates the state of Philippine infrastructure,” he said, contradicting Trade Sec. Domingo who spoke with optimism before him.
The Aquino government is not likely to meet its 4.5% to 5.5% gross domestic product growth rate in 2011 as weather dragged agriculture down while economic crises in US and eurozone, as well as slowdown in China’s growth hit our trade performance.
However, De Ocampo noted that aside from these external forces, the Aquino government also had a share of the blame.
“PPP (Public-Private Partnership program) was off to a tenuous start and at a sputtering pace,” he said, referring to the Aquino government’s much touted Public-Private Partnership program, a flagship program for infrastructure projects, touted as a job generator and a stimulus to the economy when President Aquino assumed office in 2010.
But basic good governance checks, as well as changes in Cabinet members, resulted in PPP delays. Only one project pushed through in 2011. The P2 billion Daang Hari-SLEx road was the smallest in the original list of 10 projects, which include airports, roads, rails.
“A more vigorous approach to this via whatever combinations of PPP and ODA (foreign loan) the government could muster, plus the government’s own stepped up spending would be needed,” he said.
He noted how long it takes to complete infrastructure projects. “Bear in mind the gestation period for significant infrastructure projects is a minimum of 2.5 years between identification and start of construction. When I was with World Bank, an inside joke there was that studying projects alone is already like giving birth. It takes 9 months!”
He said the government has to keep its infrastructure plans as “there is clearly no time to waste.” President Aquino will end his term in 2016.
De Ocampo acknowledged that the government is being “overcautious” with its infrastructure projects, ensuring transparency.
“(When we say we are) growing too slow, it’s just a reflection of our anxiety because we have so much potential,” he said.
He said that “while the economy failed to live up to expectations,” he said, “we continue to remain optimistic.”
He cited the President Aquino’s continuing popularity, a key difference to the previous Arroyo government, which had to stammer along the last few years of its 9-year reign.
“If President (Aquino) is popular, he must be doing something right,” he said. “I think he will remain popular.”
Nonetheless, he said the Philippine has no way but up, given the current opportunities from the the external goings on and the resources the Philippines has.
“We can move twice as fast,” he said, echoing the theme of the forum.”But not this year. This is year is a year to lay foundation.” – Rappler.com