REPRESENTATIVES of small- and medium-scale enterprises (SMEs) in Mindanao cited the need for more government help in developing the farm sector and improving conditions for doing business during the last leg of the regional Sulong Pilipinas-Philippine Development Forum in Davao City on Wednesday.
The list includes: availability of equipment and new technology for processing high-value crops like coconut and cacao; a bridge connecting Davao City and Samal island; minimizing documentary requirements in government financial transactions; police visibility in rural areas, intensive monitoring of coastal areas and continued martial law in Mindanao; construction of bicycle and motorcycle lanes; establishing regular positions for Negosyo Center personnel; strengthening information technology use for ease of doing business; expanding opportunities for farmers; formation of the Davao International Airport Authority; and expansion of financial assistance for agribusiness.
The Department of Finance (DoF) estimated that the consultation saw about 350 participants, mostly representing SMEs.
“The results of the workshops were quite encouraging. There is much enthusiasm from the business sector, especially our SMEs, for the great task of modernizing our economy. We are eager to receive your actionable recommendations and we’ll thoroughly study and act on them with as much seriousness as we have done in the past,” Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III said in his speech at the forum.
The first Sulong forum was held in Davao City in June 2016. This year, the forum was held in various regional centers, beginning with Cebu City earlier this month, followed by San Fernando City in La Union and Clark, Pampanga.
“Mindanao is at the front and center of this program. The package of infrastructure projects in this area includes irrigation systems, extensive road networks, construction and rehabilitation of key regional airports, long-span bridges and the Mindanao Railway project that will help dramatically enhance regional connectivity, reduce the cost of moving goods and people across long distances and spur economic activity for this part of the country,” Mr. Dominguez said.
He also sought to dispel accusations of minority leader Rep. Danilo E. Suarez of Quezon’s third district that the Duterte administration has been spending less that what it has programmed.
The House of Representatives last week filed a resolution — backed by House Speaker Gloria M. Arroyo — to hold a “question hour” with the Budget department on alleged underspending to the tune of P975 billion.
“I’m very happy to note that Congress is going to call a hearing on what is perceived as underspending, because we would like to inform Congress and the public that the bad old days of underspending — which the critics faulted the government for moving too slowly in getting the projects done — is now over,” said Mr. Dominguez.
“Now that we are moving ahead of our spending schedule, we are now being faulted for enlarging the budget deficit when in fact, we said that our budget deficit is going to be three percent of GDP (gross domestic product). And we have hit it on target this year.”
Mr. Dominguez noted that infrastructure spending amounted to P571 billion in the nine months to September, up 46% year-on-year and 7.2% above target, as the government frontloaded most of the projects in the first half of the year in order to take advantage of generally fine weather needed to ensure smooth construction.
He compared its infrastructure disbursement performance to that of the previous administration, noting that only P345.3 billion was spent for whole year of 2015, which was 20% below target.
“Set against the infrastructure investments we are seeing now, the previous administration delivered anemic performance. It demonstrates that the Department of Public Works and Highways and the Department of Transportation — the two lead agencies in the ‘Build, Build, Build’ program — are moving faster than expected,” the Finance chief said.
“The old problem of absorptive capacity has been solved. The mantra of fast and sure is being observed.” — Elijah Joseph C. Tubayan