In the first year of President Noynoy Aquino’s ascension into Malacanang, a revisit of the national development project was announced with the unveiling of the Philippine Development Plan 2011-2016 (aka The Plan).
The document which the ProPinoy Project has made available here took most of the year to churn out through the consultative process managed by the NEDA, the government’s lead economic planning agency.
Its ten chapters make for more hefty reading material than the scant Social Contract adopted by the Liberal Party during the last election. The Contract was simply a collection of principles mixed in with a number of promises covering key election issues.
It starts off with an exposition of our underdevelopment problem in chapter 1 and a broad treatment of macroeconomic policy in chapter 2. The remaining chapters are divided into different sectoral and thematic topics. Three chapters are devoted to the industrial, agricultural, and financial sectors. The remaining five cover the physical, social, governance, safety, and environmental themes.
Those whose expertise and hobby horses are located in any one of these sectoral or thematic areas will find the contents quite rich. For novices, it may sound like a lot of gobbledy gook given the numerous acronyms and different writing styles that tend to leave an at times incomprehensible and disjointed feel to the whole document.
As far as the big picture goes, the Plan drills down into too much detail to be considered a strategic document. A more cutdown version with a summarized version of the strategic objectives, outcomes and the strategies, targets and indicators for measuring them employed per area needs to be developed.
I believe the Cabinet Clusters announced through Executive Order 43 will in due course provide such a bird’s eyeview of the Plan. I have discussed in detail how I think that process will pan out here. At this point, however, I would like to focus on the underlying development theory embodied in the Plan itself.
The failure of the Philippines to achieve growth that is rapid, broad and inclusive enough to cope with our growing, complex and geographically dispersed needs is the reason for our underdevelopment, the Plan states.
To understand the way the Plan works, several points have to be made:
- The Plan identifies the lack of investment in physical and human capital as the main hindrance for fast, sustained and inclusive growth.
- This in turn is hampered by poor governance and insufficient revenues.
- For this reason, the chapters on infrastructural development, governance issues and social development would comprise the three most critical elements of the Plan. The rest are what it terms as ‘complementary strategies’.
- To address the infrastructure bottleneck, the idea is to use a zero based budgeting process and the public private partnerships model.
- This will be aided by a more competent and honest bureaucracy.
- This will spur greater industrial development, which will generate jobs and improve revenues.
- The increased flow of revenues will be allocated to more human, social, defense and environmental spending.
The Main Targets
The Plan targets several things, namely:
- growth in the economy is to average 7-8 percent over the next five year period,
- the share of investments to the economy is planned to rise from about 15% in 2010 to 22% by 2016,
- one million additional jobs per year are to be generated,
- the unemployment rate to hover at 6.8 to 7.2 percent (just below where it is now) as the labor force is expected to grow by 2.75% per year, and
- poverty is to decline to 16.6 percent, half what it was in 1991 (in line with external UN commitments).
Despite failing to meet its targets in the past, the planners believe that things will be different this time around due to a number of auspicious events including the smooth transfer of power in the last election and a comfortable balance of payments position which has led to our exit from the IMF stabilization program (which means for the first time in decades, our policymakers would be free to chart an independent course).
When you strip away all the fluff from the document, it is really saying that with PNoy’s mandate and the favorable economy he inherited not just from his predecessor’s work but from the policy reforms instituted since the mid-80s, the country is poised to enter a new chapter in its development as a nation.
So does the Plan go boldly into previously untrammelled territory, or is it really promising more of the same?
The government itself acknowledges that its growth target of 7-8% is aspirational. It takes its cue from reports by Goldman Sachs and the like that a higher growth trajectory could be achieved with better governance. The more realistic outcome in the near term from which government has based its own revenue and budget projections on is the 5-6% band consistent with recent history and projections made by external agencies.
There are three conclusions I would like to draw:
- What we have learned from recent history is that this level of growth of 5-6% is not sufficient to make a dent in our unemployment and poverty rates.
- PNoy’s government hopes to emulate the infrastructure spending of Mrs Arroyo during her last couple of years which elevated the growth to 7%.
- The only difference this time is that it seeks to avoid the irregularities and excessive clientelism that hampered her administration.
This explains why in his first year in office, PNoy has been setting the governance framework for properly overseeing the PPPs. If the government intends to increase growth by 1-2% points equivalent to 100-200 billion pesos per year, it had to lay the groundwork for allocating these resources. The second year will be crucial in testing this framework.
The most significant test will be whether the bidding of the projects is transparent and free of clientelism. PPP’s in the Philippines have had a spotty record. Rather than a national development project, the public has tended to view these projects as a conspiracy for enrichment by the ruling elites.
The delayed roll-out of the PPPs along with personality issues hampering the president’s bossom buddy involving the takeover of a private contractor were early warning signs that all was not well within the administration. The president’s uncle’s takeover of one major concessionaire also added to these conspiracy theories. This has given the cynical public reason to be apprehensive to say the least.
In search of a new model
In 2011, the ten or so projects set to be bidded out amount to some 149 billion pesos. Not all of that amount will be spent in 2011 or 2012 for that matter. Even with a multiplier effect, one can plainly see that the spread and scale of the original roll-out will be insufficient for meeting the growth targets in the first and second years. Some of the initial projects in fact merely involve auctioning off existing operations of the LRT and Laguindingan Airport, which will not produce many new jobs.
What will provide them are investments in productive industrial sectors in the regions. The PPP Center is meant to assist local government units in identifying and proposing such kinds of projects.
The government has identified the areas in which it is looking these projects to invest. The priority list mimics its investment priority plan for industry, services and agriculture. Whether it chooses to admit it or not, the government is already in the business of picking winners.
The question is according to economist Dani Rodrik who has studied this area, not whether the government can determine if it has a winner, but whether it can determine when it has a loser. To perform this function well, it will have to take its cue from East Asia and re-examine its overall governance agenda.
(to be continued…see Part 2: Re-defining Good Governance)