NEDA seeks continuity in infrastructure development

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Ernesto M. Pernia
Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto M. Pernia explains a point beside Rolando G. Tungpalan, undersecretary for Investment Programming at the National Economic and Development Authority, during discussions with BusinessWorld editors, reporters and researchers in Quezon City in this July 16 photo. -- THE PHILIPPINE STAR/GEREMY PINTOLO

By Elijah Joseph C. Tubayan

THE GOVERNMENT is taking steps to persuade the succeeding administration to carry on stepped-up infrastructure development, even as a looming shift in form of government adds to uncertainties now hounding the economy, the state socioeconomic planner said on Monday.

“What we… want to accomplish in this administration is that, with… master plans, long-term projects… the next administrations would continue what have been started,” Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto M. Pernia said in discussions with BusinessWorld editors, reporters and researchers in Quezon City.

The administration of President Rodrigo R. Duterte, who marks the midpoint of his six-year term next year, plans to spend over P8 trillion on priority infrastructure until 2022, when such disbursements should be equivalent to 7.3% of gross domestic product from a programmed 5.4% in 2017 and 6.3% this year.

“We are… concerned with the question of what happens beyond 2022. People are saying ‘baka wala (stepped-up infrastructure development will end) after this administration wala na,’” Rolando G. Tungpalan, undersecretary for Investment Programming at the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) said in the same roundtable session.

“We prepare ourselves by ensuring that there are masterplans… that will guide future project investments,” he explained.

“We don’t want just projects that are stand-alone basis but in the context of a development plan… so basically we are guided by a longer term beyond 2022.”

Mr. Pernia explained further: “I think if it started already, it’s harder to completely demolish.”

“So there’s a chance that the next administration would continue. If they see that the previous admin[istration] did a good job, I think there would be pressure from the public that the succeeding administrations would also follow the examples set by the admin[istration].”

Mr. Tungpalan said, for instance, that the master plan for development of Metro Davao and Metro Cebu should be completed by October.

“Then we have the biggest master plan that is now under the auspices of NEDA that is the Manila Bay sustainable development plan, encompassing a region of 25 million (people) that would guide future development of not just the Manila Bay reclamation are but also the coastal part that would span from Cavite to Bataan,” the NEDA official said.

“This is very important because we want to make sure that there’s no sporadic, chaotic embedded development in… the Manila Bay (area). This is an exercise that we should be able to complete… in 25 months.”

Both NEDA officials said the Duterte administration itself has pushed major infrastructure projects that were conceptualized and even underwent procurement in the past administration, citing as examples the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) common station that will serve Metro Manila’s railway lines and the MRT-7 that will run between North Avenue in Quezon City and the City of San Jose del Monte, Bulacan.

“Many of the projects that are visible now will be completed already. I think kung walang (if there is no) disruption up to 2022, I think tangible na ‘yung improvements sa infrastructure natin,” Mr. Pernia said.

“We thought that this is a timely discussion to talk about regional projects because of the looming federal government. Whether or not the federal government will be helping push the projects, that is still an open question there,” he added.

“It’s a different ball game. Instead of basketball, it becomes football.”

Mr. Tungpalan said the National Government will provide about 62% of funds for over 4,900 planned infrastructure projects. Past NEDA briefings show public-private partnerships will account for about 17% and official development assistance, some 13%.

“So a change in government would mean some arrangement will be altered,” Mr. Pernia said.

“Some of the lenders will say: ‘To whom would we be dealing with this time?’ So there’s that transition that will disrupt,” he added, noting that investors “don’t like uncertainty.”

And with the envisioned federal system of government shifting more of the development burden to local authorities, Mr. Pernia said: “I think more preparation is needed for local capability.”

Public investment program breakdown by region