New PPP deals eyed by Duterte team

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — The Duterte administration could yet add its own public-private partnership (PPP) projects to the pipeline of the 17 deals it plans to roll out this year and next.

"We're also looking for additional projects suited and needed in the regions, including agricultural areas," Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia said on Wednesday.

PPP Center Executive Director Andre Palacios confirmed this. Based on their transition talks, he said the new economic managers were keen not just to continue with the current lineup of PPP deals, but also to build upon it.

"Some projects that they're interested in are projects in the region. We've noted that most of the projects are in Metro Manila," he told CNN Philippines.

Related: Outgoing PPP Center head assures continuity of projects despite resignation

The PPP pipeline already includes regional infrastructure projects: the operations, maintenance and development of the Panglao Airport, Laguindingan Airport, Bacolod Airport, Iloilo Airport and Davao Airport; as well as the modernisation of the Davao Sasa Port.

However, out of a total of 53 PPP projects, the regional ones are easily outnumbered by those focused on the Greater Manila Area.

Economic managers will meet again after the State of the Nation Address in late July to discuss the PPP program. Sitting as the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Board, they have the final say on all major infrastructure projects undertaken by the government.

Five PPP deals will be up for NEDA Board review: the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Development, the Plaridel Bypass Toll Road, the Batangas-Manila Natural Gas Pipeline, the Philippine Travel Center Complex and the New Nayong Pilipino at Entertainment City.

Together, they are worth about ₱100 billion.

Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez promised that the approval process would be quick, as they intended to honour the previous administration’s work.

“We do not want to waste any more time. We have a lot of catching up to do in terms of infrastructure,” Dominguez emphasized.

He also took a potshot at his predecessors, saying: “We will not stop the projects for one, two years just to review them again and again.”

The Aquino administration had launched the PPP program in 2011 in a bid to accelerate infrastructure development in the country. Despite having a healthy pipeline of projects, it only managed to bid out 12 projects in the last five years.

In contrast, the Duterte team intended to create a more “rapid and rebalanced” infrastructure agenda, Palacios said.

He said the new economic managers would likely want to go over the projects since it’s the first time these would be presented to them. But given their emphasis on speed and efficiency, he was confident there wouldn't be any significant delay.

Implementation still key

While President Rodrigo Duterte’s infrastructure push opens up new opportunities, business leaders reminded the government that old challenges remained.

"The problem is not about writing laws or making plans. It's our implementation that sucks," Jesse Ang, who oversees investments for the World Bank, said in a forum on Tuesday.

With the economy doing so well, and the budget shortfall coming out much smaller than expected, he said the government had more than enough money to spend for infrastructure projects if it wanted too.

“There is no excuse now,” Ang pointed out.

Palacios said he relayed the very same issue in his meetings with the Duterte economic team.

Infrastructure projects tend to be delayed because of problems with acquiring right-of-way and clearing contested areas, he explained. Tariff adjustments, such as fare or toll hikes, also tend to be shelved since they are unpopular.

Fortunately, Palacios said, these issues didn't need to be resolved through changes in laws or regulations.

"They're mostly matters of political will."