Duterte economic team cites need to catch up with lost opportunities due to delayed approval of 2019 budget
The economic team will ask President Duterte to exempt the implementation of big-ticket infrastructure projects from the election ban, in order to catch up with the lost opportunities due to the delayed approval of the proposed P3.757-trillion 2019 national budget, the country’s chief economist said Monday.
In a press conference, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto M. Pernia said the economic managers at the Cabinet meeting scheduled on Feb. 6 would propose a “blanket” of priority projects and programs that they want exempted from the Commission on Elections’ (Comelec) government spending ban ahead of the midterm elections in May.
Pernia, who heads the state planning agency National Economic and Development Authority (Neda), said they want projects of “national significance” to be spared from the election ban.
“A blanket report for Malacañang will be better, so there’s not much paperwork involved,” the Neda chief said, adding that he will confer with the rest of the economic team on the finer details of the proposal.
Pernia said infrastructure projects to be rolled out by the Departments of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) as well as of Transportation (DOTr) can be exempted.
Neda Assistant Secretary Jonathan L. Uy said agencies needed to apply for each of their projects, but there could be a “common” proposal to cover all of the proposed projects to be exempted from the Comelec ban.
Uy explained that some projects already underwent advanced procurement last year but were short of award of contracts as the funding was supposed to be sourced from the national budget.
For instance, engineering works and right-of-way acquisition costs needed to be funded by the delayed budget, Uy said.
The proposal will also cover ongoing projects that need new procurement, he added.
The government is currently operating under a reenacted budget as this year’s appropriations stalled in Congress amid allegations of “pork barrel” insertions and kickbacks among lawmakers, who had also implicated Budget Secretary Benjamin E. Diokno for alleged conflict of interest with certain infrastructure projects.
Uy added that some of the flagship infrastructure projects under the ambitious “Build, Build, Build” program that earlier secured Japanese and Chinese financing—including the first subway system in Metro Manila as well as the massive railway system that will connect Clark Freeport Zone to Laguna—“will be affected by the current budget impasse.”
According to Uy, the Comelec ban on new government projects, programs as well as hiring already started in the middle of January and would extend until the middle of June.
But Uy said the exemption from the Comelec’s spending ban would still be contingent on the approval of the 2019 national budget.
Leaders of Congress had said that this year’s budget proposal would be passed by early February.
By: Ben O. de Vera