IF you have been reading the story behind the controversial NAIA Terminal 3 that has appeared in these pages the past three days, first of all, thank you; we writers rather appreciate having an audience.
The article is an update and abridged version of a much longer case study originally written about four years ago.
My objective in researching the controversial project then was to shed some light, if possible, on what appeared to me to be an almost gothic environment for infrastructure investment in this country; the NAIA-3 story is a good subject for study, because it remains one of the most well-documented scandals in recent Philippine history.
The NAIA-3 project may be one of the bigger controversies, but it is by no means the only one. In just the past year there have been a number of other examples, such as the Cavite-Laguna Expressway (Calax) project, the Cebu-Mactan International Airport project, power plants in Palawan and Masbate, the Light Rail Transit expansion and the LRT-MRT common station projects, the comprehensive disaster that is the MRT (which is already the subject of another research project similar to the NAIA-3 study), and even private ventures like the Torre de Manila condominium tower.
When one reads the current news and compares it to a past scandal like the NAIA-3 mess, the singular depressing impression left behind is that despite changes in government, despite hopeful declarations of the intent to increase “transparency” and “the ease of doing business,” and despite the energetic attention of a scandal-loving media, nothing seems to change. Misbehavior on the part of government and corporate personalities continues much as it ever has, with all concerned remembering nothing and learning nothing from one failed venture to the next. Consider this: The original idea for a third terminal at Ninoy Aquino International Airport was originally hatched in late 1989, as part of a French-funded study by Aéroports de Paris (ADP). That’s 25 years ago; the country has had four presidents since then and nearly doubled in population, and still the ill-starred terminal is neither completed nor the various disputes it provoked anywhere near being resolved.
The biggest lesson in all this is that the usual approach to improving the results of big-ticket investment initiatives – the approach which, among other things, involves endlessly repeating vapid buzzwords like “transparency” – is clearly not working. It is not a failure of rules and processes, because not only does the country have enough of those, it has the right ones; that the results would be positive if only they were followed is almost
self-evident. Instead, it is a fundamental lack of ethics in the entire culture. And despite volumes having been written about what that shortcoming may be and how it might be overcome, the dreary business landscape is no brighter now than it was last century.
The real change has to come from within, and there is no simple suggestion that can be made about how to accomplish that. One thing that can and should be done, however, is to remove at least one key enabler of malfeasance, misfeasance, and nonfeasance, and do away with the execrable concept of “public-private partnerships.” It is even by mere simple logic a self-defeating idea, and even when it has worked more or less as planned, the very people who are supposed to benefit from a project it creates bear unnecessary costs long past its useful life. Banishing the concept will by no means solve the country’s inability to build and grow in a productive fashion. But it will at least be one less stupid thing to do, and that is still a kind of progress.