Exemption to poll public works ban eyed

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By Melissa Luz T. Lopez
Senior Reporter

STATE economic managers are looking to ask the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to exempt big-ticket projects from the election ban on public works in order to keep them on schedule and help prop up gross domestic product (GDP) growth.

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto M. Pernia said he will bring up the proposal to the Cabinet at its Feb. 6 meeting, in a bid to push GDP growth amid delayed enactment of the 2019 national budget.

“One thing we can do is to ask for exemption from the Comelec on the ban on spending. I think agencies needing exemptions should be able to get exemptions,” Mr. Pernia said during a media briefing at the headquarters of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) on Monday.

Mr. Pernia said they will likely name projects “of national significance” to be spared from the 45-day ban, noting that economic managers have already reached a “consensus” about the proposal.

Ahead of the May 13 midterm elections, public works as well as hiring and movement of government workers will be prohibited from March 29 to May 12.

The economic team of President Rodrigo R. Duterte had warned that a delay in enactment of the P3.757-trillion spending plan will hurt GDP growth, as it will leave new projects — including those under the government’s flagship “Build, Build, Build” program — unfunded this semester.

The NEDA also expects a reduction of 1.1-2.3 percentage points in the full-year GDP growth if the 2019 budget is not passed at all.

NEDA Assistant Secretary Jonathan L. Uy added that economic planners will likely draw up a list of priority projects that they will submit to Comelec containing both new ones and those under construction but needing additional procurement.

“The government has already done advanced procurement since last year… Those that are ongoing but need new procurement, this will require an exemption during the period of the elections. Also, new projects that have been signed particularly with Japan and China, most of these will actually require new appropriations with regard to the conduct of detailed engineering and right-of-way [acquisition],” Mr. Uy said.

“[These are the] new projects that will be affected if we do not pass the budget and if we do not get an exemption from the Comelec for moving forward with the award of contracts.”

He added that national projects to be implemented by the Department of Transportation as well as the Department of Public Works and Highways will be on the list, as well as those funded by foreign loans like the Metro Manila subway and North-South Commuter Railway from Japan.

Mr. Uy, however, clarified that they can file the formal request with Comelec only after the new national budget is signed into law.

The Duterte administration intends to spend about P1 trillion on infrastructure this year, which should help spur growth to as fast as 7-8% from 2018’s 6.2% pace.

Adverse weather conditions also appear to be a risk for growth this year, with the NEDA citing a bigger chance for a dry spell to hit the country in the coming months.

There is now a 70% chance for El Niño to hit parts of the country, Undersecretary Rosemarie G. Edillon said, citing the latest forecasts from the state weather bureau.

The drought is expected to affects parts of the country from February to July.

Farm output growth slowed to 0.56% last year from 3.96% in 2017, partly due to damage from several typhoons that hit Luzon.

The NEDA said the government has been preparing for the looming dry spell, based on lessons from the country’s experience in 2015.