DISRUPTIONS caused by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has slowed down the implementation of 59 ongoing programs and projects funded by official development assistance (ODA), the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) reported.

In its ODA Portfolio Review Report for 2020 released on Monday, the NEDA said the country’s outstanding ODA portfolio jumped 46.6% to $30.7 billion last year from $20.9 billion in 2019.

The increase was mainly due to the 25 ODA loans worth $9.08 billion the government obtained for its COVID-19 pandemic response last year.

The total number of ongoing projects aided by foreign loans and grants increased by nine to 357 in 2020.

Amid the ongoing crisis, NEDA identified 97 COVID-19-related issues that slowed down the implementation of 59 ongoing projects. More than half or 57 of the issues were left unresolved.

“The COVID-19 pandemic gave rise to new implementation issues, which required implementing and oversight agencies to adjust existing strategies/processes/policies and to ensure that ODA remains effective and adaptive to the new normal,” the NEDA said.

The implementation of 35 projects were either delayed or suspended when the enhanced community quarantine or the strictest form of lockdown was imposed in parts of the country. 

These projects were implemented by the departments of Transportation, Public Works and Highways, Agriculture, Agrarian Reform, Environment and Natural Resources, Health, Science and Technology, and Trade and Industry. Other projects involving the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System, Land Bank of the Philippines and National Irrigation Administration were also affected.

Other setbacks that hounded ODA-funded projects include 17 incidents of delayed delivery of materials and services; 15 instances where projects were affected since foreign and local staff were not able to travel; and 11 issues involving visas for foreign staff.

Five projects were affected by budget cuts or realignments, while another five faced procurement delays. There were three issues involving permits and clearances, while three projects faced COVID-19-related problems.

Due to these implementation issues, the NEDA said there are 21 projects that will likely be restructured this year.

“Project restructuring requests cover changes in cost and scope, extension of loan/grant and implementation duration period, and loan reallocation that are submitted by the agencies to approving bodies such as the ICC (Investment Coordination Committee) and the DBCC (Development Budget Coordination Committee),” it said.

Issues cited by implementing agencies in their restructuring requests include COVID-19 disruptions; site availability and right-of-way acquisitions; insufficient budget; procurement concerns; project uptake, processing of approvals; manpower issues; project design and other technical issues.

The government will consider this year the proposal to increase the cost of the Binondo-Intramuros and Estrella-Pantaleon Bridges project; Light Rail Transit (LRT) Line 1 South Extension project and LRT Line 2 East Extension project; and the Jalaur River water reservoir project.

Implementing agencies are asking for more time to implement the rehabilitation program of Marawi City, as well as the construction of the Central Luzon Link Expressway, Davao City Bypass, and the third phase of the Arterial Road Bypass project.

Adjustments are also being sought to extend the implementation period of the Metro Manila Interchange Construction project phase 4, the Water District Development Sector project, and the North-South Commuter Railway project.

Other key infrastructure projects that are up for restructuring this year include the proposed Metro Manila Subway, Metro Manila Bus Rapid Transit, Chico River Pump Irrigation and the planned Samar Pacific Coastal Road.

There were also expected changes to the planned rehabilitation of the national irrigation sector; the proposed project to improve flood-risk management in Cagayan de Oro River; the education program in Mindanao, among others.

Last year, NEDA received 33 restructuring requests from government agencies to reevaluate 26 foreign-funded projects, which mainly involved adjustments in infrastructure projects. — B.M.Laforga