Tuesday, 20 January 2009

P200-b stimulus plan hangs as Congress delays budget

By Joyce Pangco Pañares and Christine F. Herrera
The Manila Times

THE government has identified 3,200 infrastructure projects, worth at least P60 billion, that it will implement in the first six months of the year as part of an economic stimulus package that aims to spur growth and generate at least 35,000 jobs.

But funds for the projects are still uncertain because Congress has yet to pass the government’s P1.425-billion budget, which covers the economic stimulus plan amounting to P200 billion.

“Time is of the essence here,” Public Works Undersecretary Ramon Aquino said. “We want to make sure that these projects are implemented quickly.”

Aquino said the Public Works Department had doubled the amount that local district directors may disburse without clearance to cut red tape.

“Before, our district directors could only release funds for projects worth P50 million and below, but that amount has been doubled to P100 million,” he said.

Aquino said bidding for all the projects must be finished by next month. Public Works directors must be resourceful in solving problems relating to road right-of-way, and those failing to comply with the spending plan would be re-assigned.

“Sanctions will be imposed on officials who fail to implement projects quickly, and resources will be shifted from slow to fast-moving projects,” he said.

Among the projects identified for financing were the Halsema Highway and Bontoc-Tabuk-Tuguegarao Road in the Cordilleras; the Baler-Casiguran Road and Dingalan Port Road in Central Luzon; the Marikina-Infanta Road in Calabarzon; the Iloilo East Coast Road and Calbiga-Tacloban Road in the Visayas; and the Basilan Circumferential Road, Surigao-Davao Coastal Road, and Iligan Circumferential Road in Mindanao.

But the spending plan may only be implemented once Congress approves the P1.4-trillion budget that is still pending in a bicameral conference committee. The budget was supposed to have been passed by Dec. 17, but it was overtaken by Congress’ Christmas break.

“We need to work double-time,” Speaker Prospero Nograles said on the eve of the resumption of congressional sessions, noting that Congress would have only 21 session days before it went on a month-long recess from March 6 to April 12.

Nograles said the bicameral conference committee had been meeting Mondays to Wednesdays, but its leaders, Senator Edgardo Angara and Quezon Rep. Junie Cua, had the option of meeting on Thursdays and Fridays too.

If Congress fails to pass the budget on time, the Executive department will have to operate on a reenacted budget of P1.2 trillion, which does not include the P200 billion that was allocated to finance priority projects.

The budget is one of several priority measures that include a new law extending the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law, which expired Dec. 31, 2008; the reproductive health bill, and a proposal to amend the Constitution.

The House and Senate also have to act on bicameral conference committee reports on amendments to the Anti-Money Laundering Law, the investment and incentive code, corporate reform act, oil deregulation law, cyber-crime act, reforms of food and drug laws, the Philippine lemon law, rent control law and anti-squatting law, among others.

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