By Cai U. Ordinario & Samuel P. Medenilla, April 3 2019; Business Mirror

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THE implementation of big-ticket infrastructure projects faces delays as the Commission on Elections (Comelec) has asked for additional documents from economic managers before it could decide on their request for exemption from the public works ban.

Economic managers earlier sought exemption from the public works ban, which took effect on March 29, to minimize the adverse impact of a reenacted budget on GDP growth this year.

If this is not granted, the country’s economy would have to contend with the triple whammy of a reenacted budget, El Niño and the possible delay in the implementation of 1,132 public infrastructure projects.

National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) OIC and Undersecretary for Regional Development Adoracion M. Navarro told the BusinessMirror that the agency is coordinating with the Department of Finance (DOF) and the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).

Navarro also said implementing agencies have been asked to submit the additional documents required by the Comelec.

She said the projects include the 145 projects submitted for the 2019 General Appropriations Bill; the 603 from the Department of Public Works and Highways; and the 384 funded by official development assistance.

“We’re coordinating with DOF and DBM [our cosignatories to request] and we’ll ask implementing agencies to submit documentary requirements on their own; more feasible that way. We’ll see if some projects can be exempted,” Navarro said via SMS on Tuesday.

Navarro said Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto M. Pernia, who is currently abroad on official business, received a copy of the Comelec reply to the economic managers on March 29.

She said the Comelec issued Resolution 10511 which was dated March 20, but it was posted only four days ago as tracked by the Neda, and detailed the numerous documentary requirements per project.

“I’m asking our staff to assess if implementing agencies will be able to produce these on time for the projects/programs mentioned in the February letter of the economic managers to Comelec,” Navarro said.

Certificate of exception

Comelec Acting Campaign Finance Director Efraim Q. Bag-id told the BusinessMirror they are still waiting for the Neda, DOF, and the DBM to submit the necessary documentary requirements.

The Comelec grants an “exception” and the request for additional documents will allow the poll body to determine the projects that are automatically excepted from the public works prohibition.

“We will not be able to act on their [request] until they complete their [submitted] documents,” Bag-id said.

On March 26, the Comelec Campaign Finance Office (CFO) sent a letter to the Neda, DOF and DBM informing them of the need to submit additional documents, including a certified true copy of certificate of completion of public works projects, notice of award of contract, contract agreement, and statement of account, among others.

Bag-id said the Comelec will use these documents to ensure the list of projects is allowed by the Omnibus Election Code (OEC).

The request from the  Neda, DOF, and DBM is among the 93 applications for certification of exception the Comelec-CFO was able to process as of April 2.

Bag-id said 13 of these applications were given certification, while the remaining 80 were asked to submit additional supporting documents.

He said Comelec-CFO is currently processing the applications of 500 public works.

Through the certification process, the Comelec-CFO is also able to determine if a public work is excepted from the public works ban of the OEC.

“This means that the law itself states [that a construction project] is not included in the ban in the first place,” Bag-id said.  “Comelec does not grant exemptions [for public works ban], only certification of exceptions,” he added.

List of exception

Among public works, those excepted from the ban are maintenance of existing and/or completed public workers; those undertaken by contract through public bidding held or by negotiated contract awarded before March 29; and emergency work necessitated by the occurrence of public calamity among others.

Projects contracted under a public-private partnership and build-operate-transfer are also not covered by the ban.

Bag-id clarified government projects, which fall under any of these categories, are automatically allowed to continue construction during the election ban, which started on March 29 and will end on May 12.

However, he said these projects are still open to scrutiny from any party and the Commission on Audit.  “They should be able to prove they are excepted by presenting documents so it will be a hassle for them. If they have the certification of exception, this will no longer be necessary,” Bag-id said.