NEDA chief bares changes in infra program

MANILA — Several major bridge projects, with an estimated cost of at least PHP161.6 billion, will be removed from the priority infrastructure program of the government but smaller public-private partnership (PPP) projects will be included.

In a briefing on Friday on the sidelines of the Ambisyon Natin 2040 symposium and exposition at the SMX Aura Convention Center in Taguig City, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary and concurrent National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) Director-General Ernesto Pernia said these include the Leyte-Surigao link bridge, Cebu-Bohol link bridge, and Luzon-Samar link bridge.

He said these projects are hard to implement right now due to the lack of technological and engineering equipment. The three projects he named needed to be built in very deep waters.

“We found it to be unfeasible from the feasibility study in terms of economic viability,” he said, noting the new list of priority projects will be posted on the NEDA website by next week.

He pointed out that PPP projects to be included on the list are “game-changing” infrastructures that are regional in scope.

This decision is a turn-around from the earlier stance against pure PPP projects, which will be built, operated and managed by private entities.

The current economic team previously preferred to finance infrastructure projects through combined funds from the national government and official development assistance (ODA) loans and offer the operations and management of these projects to the private sector. It called projects under this system as hybrid PPP.

Pernia admitted that “there was some hesitancy to PPP projects before but overtime minds tend to adjust to reality and I think this is what’s happening.”

“And also my philosophy, which I have already mentioned in a meeting, is that we should look at the bigger picture. Let’s not be too obsessed about little gains to be made by the private sector proponent or a little lost on the part of the government,” he said.

The NEDA chief said what should be focused on is the impact of the project on the economy, on employment, and on domestic growth.

“Let’s count those things rather than this little cost to the government or gains to the private sector. It’s not good to be too restrictive,” he said, citing that some of these restrictions are hampering the entry of foreign investments.

“I’m thinking more about the forest than just the trees. And so we have to look at the benefit to the forest to greening to the rehabilitation of the forest, rather than to, you know, these individual trees that are part of the ecosystem, but, you know, we have to look at the bigger picture,” he said.

Pernia said he has yet to discuss this change in the infrastructure program with Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, although he already told Finance Undersecretary Karen Singson about it. Joann Villanueva/PNA-