The PPP, or public private partnership, aims to use trillions of cubic meters of concrete and tons of steel to modernize the country’s fraying infrastructure—and for all intents and purposes create a 21st century network of interconnected seaports, airports, roads and the cognates. What can be more admirable than that?
In theory, really, there can be no program grander than the PPP and the big-ticket infra projects of government outside of the PPP. Just look at the merits of the PPP: full private sector/public sector collaboration, sharing financial resources, the sharing of technocratic know-how and even a shared commitment to upgrade every major physical facility in the country that is related to improving the economy. The integrity/transparency that is supposed to be an integral part of the PPP scheme is a wondrous injection.
Ask the country’s movers and shakers, and they will all agree that such collaboration is not the standard practice elsewhere. Even developed economies are wary of full partnerships; they just want government out of private business. In developed economies where libertarians hold sway, government participation is not welcome in anything that concerns private enterprise.
Here, it is full-throttle for partnership.
In exchange for the contracts to build big-ticket projects, conglomerates are willing to shell out billions of pesos up front to fast-track the whole process and demonstrate to the government their eagerness to be part of this great infrastructure effort. Give us the right-of-ways and the technical designs, they tell government, and we will do the rest.
Can it get sweeter than that?
Yet, all of these dramatic terms of the partnerships, and the expectation of and game-changing results, are not enough to tame doubts on whether or not the PPP and the big-ticket items outside the PPP are really the right path to achieving the desired agenda of modernizing the country’s infrastructure network. Even with a 100 percent guarantee that all the projects will be covered by the integrity of the bidding process and its attendant collateral benefits, qualms and doubts about the PPP, and this amazing creation of technocracy, refuse to wither and die.
You know why? In a context of ever-expanding income inequality, and the ever-growing rich-poor divide, the PPP and the big-ticket infra projects would be a cash-cow for the super rich, with tangential gains for those below. In short, they will abettors of more inequality.
Do you know of a bidder that does not belong to the conglomerates? Is there a possibility that a bidder made up of five to ten traditional construction companies that are not part of the giant business groups to make a run for the PPP projects? Can the PPP have space for the traditional construction companies bidding by themselves, and bidding outside of groups controlled by the business and corporate giants?
From the initial bidding results, the answer is an emphatic no. You have to be part of the Big Guys or else …
Ok, what has been awarded so far?
The first award, the Daang Hari – SLEX road Link worth $46.6 million went to Ayala Corporation. The second award, the $389 million School Infra Project Phase 1, was awarded to a consortium led by Citicore-Megawide- BF Riverbanks.
The third, the $388 million expressway that would link the NAIA to the entertainment and gambling complex, was awarded to San Miguel Corp.
There are ongoing bids for the following: $1.3 billion LRT Line 1 Cavite Extension, $312 million for School Infrastructure Phase 2, $239 million Mactan International Airport’s passenger terminal building, $132.5 million modernization of the Philippine Orthopedic Center and other projects. What is noticeable is that all the bidders are backed by the Philippine top conglomerates and the same old, old faces of plutocracy.
There is no spread-out, broad pool of bidders, which in the ideal world is the theme of all government procurement laws.
After the completion of the PPP projects, here is the one sure result: the vast wealth of the conglomerates would expand. The value of their equities would correspondingly rise. The owners would get a higher ranking in the Forbes list of billionaires.
The workers that worked in these projects would remain miserable. A network of suppliers getting a one-time, big-time revenue boost from the PPP is even out of the question .The conglomerates supply everything and fabricate every major item the projects would require.
Who designed the PPP and who tailored it to fit bigness? And designed in such a way that the conglomerate – beneficiaries even feel that they are owed by the Filipino people? On every occasion that you see them talking, about the PPP, it is always about the failure of the government to deliver the deliverables on time, not on the huge profit they would amass from the projects.
The PPP bids are no different from the no-bid projects of the US government for the Iraq reconstruction work. Halliburton and its subsidiaries, plus a few select construction companies with a global reach, got most of the government contracts. They, too, acted as if the no-bid projects that reaped enormous profits for the transnationals were done with a certain sense of altruism.
Everything about the PPP and the big-ticket projects is about bigness and connection. There is nothing about spreading out of opportunities.
Would a brave legislator come out and seek an inquiry on the super rich –getting-more –fatter under the PPP regime? Again, the answer is an emphatic no.