Saturday, 27 August 2011

Complete standstill

9 August 2011

It’s not your set, folks.

If you don’t see President Aquino inaugurating any new bridge or farm-to-market road on your television newscasts, don’t blame the TV crew.

Blame instead the administration for its underspending.

Or should it be, more appropriately, nonspending?

According to a news report, not one of 20 bridges worth P4.05 billion, or farm-to-market roads worth P2.5 billion—has been built since Congress approved them last year.

At a House budget hearing last week, Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez was said to have been hopping mad when he learned that financing for the farm-to-market roads for his district had yet to be released by the agriculture department.

The legislator gave Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes a tongue-lashing and became even more livid when de los Reyes said only four of the 20 designs for the bridges had been approved, and that the rest, including the congressman’s, were still on the drawing board and must be validated by the public-works department.

De los Reyes told the committee hearing that the pre-fabricated bridges made of steel would be imported from France. “The design alone takes a long time. At the rate the designs are being drawn and technically validated, and then pre-fabricated bridges are hauled in, I’d say the construction would be finished in 10 years.”

Rodriguez then said: “It is now August and here we are already talking about the P1.816-trillion national budget for 2012, yet you are telling us the projects for 2011 remain a design? What are you waiting for? Christmas?”

Another lawmaker, however, defended de los Reyes, saying he should not be blamed since the Tulay ng Pangulo project was transferred to the Department of Public Works and Highways this year.

Amid all this, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said he was optimistic government spending would pick up in the second half of the year, with projects ready to start.

According to Abad, the bottleneck in spending in the first half was caused by a policy requiring agencies to complete a list of projects to be undertaken under lump-sum allocations, and that with the lists completed in the middle of the year, the implementation of the various projects can now be rolled out in the second half.

The Aquino administration touted public-private partnership (PPP) as its flagship economic program early on, claiming that this would address the need for vital infrastructure, the lack of which had proven to be a big disincentive to foreign investors.

But one year later, from the officially announced list of 10 priority PPP projects, the list was pruned down to five, and now one hardly hears about any PPP project ready to take off.

If fighting corruption is the rationale for the extreme frugality in public spending, then perhaps it’s understandable for the Aquino administration to take a long, hard look at every project that’s proposed for public funding.

But it’s quite another thing to let everything grind to a halt from sheer inertia and bureaucratic inefficiency.

We expected the Aquino administration to hit the ground running from Day One. Instead, we have a laid-back national leadership that seems to be taking up too much time frantically looking under the bed for evidence of corruption instead of tweaking the specifications of roads and bridges so that the public may derive maximum benefit from infrastructure. Perhaps it should be reminded that time and tide wait for no man, and that the nation needs to quicken the pace of economic and social development because the poor cannot wait forever for deliverance from their wretched state.

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