Infrastructure-oriented think tank Infrawatch said it would like to see economist Arsenio Balisacan who is returning to his old post at the National Economic Development Authority to review all ongoing and indicative infrastructure projects undertaken during the term of President Rodrigo Duterte.
“As the country’s new NEDA Chief, Secretary Balisacan should prioritize which infrastructure projects to continue, suspend, cancel or transform into public private partnerships in order to effectively manage the country’s climbing debt load,” Infrawatch PH convenor Terry Ridon said in a statement.
Ridon said managing the massive spending on infrastructure projects is critical to ensuring that social programs for housing and cash aid continue under the new government.
He pointed out that if the country continues with the current administration’s infrastructure trajectory of massive spending on the back of foreign loans, “there might not be enough cash left to build houses, schools, and health centers and to distribute cash aid during crises.”
Ridon said by putting the brakes on foreign loans to fund infrastructure ambitions, the government can tap the private sector to develop viable infrastructure projects.
“This will provide government breathing space to reduce the country’s debt below the current 63.5 percent of our gross domestic product,” Ridon said.
“We have reached this point no thanks to the outgoing administration’s infrastructure ambitions, not even half of which had in fact been completed or currently ongoing. But this will certainly result in serious belt-tightening under the new administration on social programs aimed at directly benefiting the public, such as housing and cash aid,” he added.
For Ridon, social programs should be the core agenda of the Marcos administration, given that the vast majority of its mandate comes from the marginalized socioeconomic classes.
Ridon said an immediate source of fiscal space in infrastructure projects would be to cancel controversial infrastructure deals undertaken under the Duterte administration.
He likewise called for the cancellation of projects that employ foreign laborers, saying these deprive employment to the country’s great mass of construction workers.
“Infrastructure deals like the recently inaugurated China-funded bridges should not be allowed in the new government, as nearly half of the project workforce were Chinese workers. How can we stimulate a post-Covid economy if foreign workers compete with our own workers?” Ridon said.
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