There are two ways to look at President Aquino’s report from his recent trip to Europe where he said he had come home with some US$2.3 billion in investment commitments in the bag.
First is to say that the $2.3 billion figure is merely a little over 10 percent of the US$20 billion-worth of potential Public-Private Partnership (PPP) projects he was supposed to sell to the European business community.
Second is to say that the US$2.3 billion worth of investment pledges is a significant accomplishment, and that amount is a sign that the international business community still sees the country’s PPP program as credible and worth its while.
No debate here: what PNoy got from the European businessmen, if it ripens into actual investments at all, could significantly boost the country’s bid to push infrastructure development faster and solve some of our problems, including employment.
That, of course, is a big “if”.
In his arrival speech, PNoy boasted that the investment commitments will translate to some 55,000 jobs. Both the commitments and their job-creation potentials are welcome news.
PPP Center Executive Director Cossette Canilao said two major PPP projects were high on the list of the President’s menu. One is the US$2.27-billion Laguna Lakeshore Expressway Dike Project. The other is the US$544.2 million Bulacan Bulk Water Supply Project.
We do not know if these two projects are part of the $2.3 billion investment pledges from PNoy’s trip. We hope they are. The Laguna Lakeshore Expressway Dike Project will not only solve the perennial and often deadly flooding of the towns and cities around Laguna de Bay, it will also make travel from Cavite to Laguna much faster and easier.
The Bulacan Bulk Water Supply Project, on the other hand, will serve to assure our countrymen that we won’t run out of safe drinking water in the near future.
We hope that PNoy realizes that his PPP pitch in Europe has definitely raised expectations from the international business community. Potential investors expect that mechanisms are in place to ensure that our bidding processes are fair and that the playing field is, as promised, level and apolitical.
From the purely legal viewpoint, the PPP stands on solid ground. Republic Act 7718, or the Philippine Amended Build-Operate-Transfer Law, and its implementing rules and regulations prescribe the modes by which investors can come in.
The law likewise prescribes that, under the solicited mode, the implementing agency or local government unit concerned must procure and award priority infrastructure and development projects through transparent and competitive pre-qualification and public bidding processes.
The pre-qualification process boosts the expectation of the investor communities, both local and international, that the competition to bag the projects will be joined only by entities that have the right credentials, preventing a mockery of the subsequent bidding process.
The transparency and competitiveness of the actual bidding of the project, on the other hand, is the assurance that there are no intervening and unseen variables at play that can unduly taint the credibility of the bidding process or of the PPP program itself.
At this point, the PPP can be a bright spot if, and only if, these processes can be protected.
Based on the report of the PPP Center, it looks like the government is serious in making PPP a true centerpiece for development.
Earlier, the PPP Center said two PPP projects were waiting to be awarded, with the bidding process already completed. These are the Cavite-Laguna Expressway Project (CALAX) and the LRT Line 1 Cavite Extension, and Operation and Maintenance.
The other week, the LRT Line 1 Extension deal was finally signed despite much delay. Now, only the CALAX project is languishing on the shelf following an apparent indecision on the part of the Palace as to what its ultimate fate should be.
The business community is optimistic that the eventual issuance of the Notice of Award to the CALAX project, per the PPP Center update, can happen soon. Doing so will assure the international community that their expectations regarding the transparency and integrity of the PPP bidding processes are protected.
The same is expected when bids start coming soon for the three projects now being procured under PPP. These are the Bulacan Bulk Water project earlier mentioned, and the south and southwest terminals of the Integrated Transport System Project.
For the international business community, PNoy’s PPP pitch created not just enthusiasm but also momentum.
Given this, the Aquino government is now poised to accelerate development but only if it meets the expectation of blue-chip foreign investors that safeguards are in place to guarantee that our PPP processes are shielded from politics.