NEDA lists priority bills for 18th Congress

NEDA lists priority bills for 18th Congress

MANILA, Philippines — As the country elects new lawmakers today, the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) has identified several priority measures to be proposed for inclusion in the legislative agenda.

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia said among the pieces of legislation the economic team wants taken up in the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) with the 18th Congress are the creation of an apex body for water regulation, liberalization of the sugar industry, and exemption of line-itemized government projects from the election spending ban.

Also in the priority list is the passage of amendments to the Services Act that will pave the way for the liberalization of investments in utilities as the current law prohibits majority ownership by foreign entities in public utilities.

Economic managers have been pushing for the creation of a central authority on water resource management which will become the Department of Water.

This is expected to address the suboptimal use and poor management of the country’s water resources, the result of fragmented regulation of water supply and usage.

There are now t least 32 agencies involved in the management of the country’s water resources.

This structure gave rise to issues on coordination of plans for projects and programs in the sector, as well as limitations in the development of new water sources in several areas.

The proposed removal of constraints in the importation of sugar comes in the wake of the recent enactment of the law that liberalizes the importation of rice.

Pernia said earlier that the high price of sugar in the country is preventing several industries – like food manufacturing – from becoming competitive.

The domestic sugar industry is among the most regulated and protected sectors in the country with the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) strictly allocating the use of locally-produced sugar and setting the maximum import volume for the commodity.

Pernia said economic managers would also push for the amendment of the Omnibus Election Code to automatically exempt projects itemized for funding under the national budget so implementation would not be hampered by the election spending ban.

This should cover all phases of the project cycle for hard infrastructure – such as pre-investment activities, procurement, and implementation – as well as the operations and maintenance (O&M) component of the project.

Pernia said this proposal will be discussed in the next meeting of the Development Budget Coordination Committee (DBCC).

The proposal bill would aid government spending during the first quarter – as the country was then operating on a reenacted budget. Economic managers had asked the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to exempt 145 priority projects from the election spending ban that started in March 29 and ended on May 12.

The Comelec, however, responded to the petition on the day the ban started and did not grant the petition, instead asking for a shorter list.

“These kinds of inaction or delays on the part of other sectors of government are not going to be helpful. That’s why we say the whole government is needed for better performance of the economy and poverty reduction,” said Pernia.

Economic growth slowed down to 5.6 percent in the first quarter of the year – the slowest in 16 quarters – bogged down by diminished government spending as a result of the reenactment of last year’s budget in the first four months of the year.