Work is resumed

That once-in-every-three-years break is behind us and, as presiding officers of legislative bodies call it after a break, “session is resumed.” For the executives, it might as well be “work is resumed.”

By now, the winners of the just-concluded elections could be in the middle of preparations to assume their respective posts, staring at the enormity of the tasks before them. People expect that they are up to the challenge.

Local chief executives (Mayors and Governors) will need to continue to address pressing issues of day-to-day administration (peace and order, zoning and land use conflicts, vehicular and human traffic congestion in mega cities, waste disposal, social service delivery choke points, disaster preparedness, etc.). On less routine but equally compelling tasks, such as pushing their individual agenda for development, involving for example infrastructure and industry-promoting investments, among other key engines and drivers of local economic growth, the capacity for project management is often in need of recharging and upgrading. Vertical and horizontal coordination is required to get these kinds of projects properly implemented, especially if their funding comes from various sources and their stakeholders represent a diverse mix of interest groups or sectors. This means getting everyone involved, from communities at the barangay level to the technocrats at the national level, as well as representatives of component local government units (LGUs).

At the national level, the elected legislators would have their hands full sorting out a range of issues—from first day jitters (among the rookies) and organizational dysfunctions (caused by partisan rivalries), from human rights to the war on drugs, from Philippine sovereignty to the faltering growth of the economy. At any rate, they would be expected to interpret their mandate as framed more by the need to conform, or at by search for consensus, rather than by the urge to fiscalize, as it were, considering the unmistakable and overwhelming support the voters have accorded to the Duterte government.

New comers, such as Isko Moreno of Manila and Vico Sotto of Pasig, will need to outperform their predecessors if only to meet the high expectations generated by their surprising rise to power. Peace and order will continue to rank high in the list of priorities; street crimes continue to victimize many; law enforcement may have improved, but police operation protocols remain contentious.

Rapid urbanization is taking its toll on the carrying capacity of densely populated areas. Pressure on allocation of resource bases continues to mount, taxing the area management skills of government to the limit. Land values have zoomed up, beyond the reach of the majority of the population, resulting in unfair competition among individuals for every inch of space. 

Ineffective zoning policies, made moribund by non-implementation in many cases, heighten land use conflicts that result in gross inefficiencies of the economy. In cities, electric/utility posts, vendors, barangay halls, even police precincts, compete with pedestrians for spaces along thoroughfares—especially sidewalk and easement areas. Open green spaces are giving way to malls and infrastructures. In rural areas, farm lands yield to industrial zones. Even protected forest and marine areas are falling prey to poachers, the latest example of which being what Chinese fishermen are doing to the giant clams in West Philippine Sea.

But the challenge of the day is perhaps getting the administration’s “Build Build Build Program” going at a faster rate. Many will quickly add that doing it fast is not enough, doing it right is equally important.

The economic managers have already blamed the delay in enactment of the national budget as the main cause of deceleration of economic growth. From a gross domestic product growth rate of 6.3 in the last quarter of 2018, GDP in first quarter of 2019 dropped to 5.6 percent.

One of the perennial bottlenecks for government projects, especially for those with the size and scope of each infrastructure project identified under the Build Build Build Program is procurement. In December 2018, anticipating that the national budget will not be passed in time, the Government Procurement Policy Board (GPPB) issued guidelines allowing government agencies to conduct procurement processes short of award of contract, even as approval of the national budget was pending. Theoretically, this meant government offices, while operating on a re-enacted budget, could have proceeded to conduct procurement activities that would allow them to award contracts to winning bidders as soon as the budget was approved.

Apparently, however, government spending had remained below target levels. A GPPB study conducted a few years ago showed that majority of projects miss completion targets due to slow procurement. In 2012, for example, an average of 76 percent of the budget for projects identified by key government agencies could not be disbursed due to non-award of contracts.

Government procurement is also notorious for giving rise to corruption. In trying pick up the pace for completion of its projects, government would do well not to take short cuts that make it vulnerable to fraud and wrongdoing among participants in government transactions.

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