>News Update Philippine President trumpets record of young government

>Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) – Philippine President Benigno Aquino III on Saturday (February 26) trumpeted the initial �achievements� of his relatively young administration before foreign donors and creditors whose support the government is tapping to help it achieve its development agenda.

In a speech at the 2011 Philippines Development Forum (PDF) at Sofitel Hotel on Saturday, Aquino said foreign agencies should find it worthwhile to help finance the projects and programs of the government aimed at sustaining economic growth.

This is because his administration�s early accomplishments indicate the government is serious about its reform and development agenda, Aquino said.

�In the roughly eight months that I and my team have been in office, we have witnessed an upsurge of optimism in our economy. In a short span of time, we are fulfilling our promise to curb corruption and to reduce poverty,� he said.

In his speech, the President said the actions and programmes carried out during the first months of his administration included the rebidding of overpriced contracts, the adoption of the zero-based budgeting approach and the increase in the budget for the conditional cash transfer (CCT) programme, among others.

He said there were about 1-billion-peso (US$22.8 million) worth of contracts for projects administered by the department of public works and highways (DPWH) that were bid out again because they were found to have been overpriced.

�In our first month in office, we stopped and then renegotiated and rebid some overpriced contracts of the DPWH amounting to 1 billion pesos, saving our taxpayers 300 million pesos ($6.8 million) as a result of implementing a transparent and a truly competitive process,� Aquino said.

The President said zero-based budgeting was used in planning the 2011 national budget, which he said was the opposite of the �incremental budgeting system� of the past.

Under zero-based budgeting, the department of budget and management requires each government agency to defend each expenditure item, whether it be a project or a program, every time a new national budget is prepared in order for that item to get funding.

To �defend� an expenditure item means to explain why it is necessary and to present an evaluation of how budget allocations for it in the past were used, Aquino explained.

Under the incremental budgeting system, most projects and programs of government agencies are assumed to be ongoing, and so the budget department would automatically allot funds for those, he said.

The PDF is a mechanism that brings together the Philippines� development partner organisations with government officials and other stakeholders to discuss the country�s overall development agenda and priorities. The forum serves as a venue for generating commitments and support for specific items in the administration�s development plan.

This year�s PDF, the first under the Aquino administration, carried the theme �Implementing President Aquino�s Social Contract to Achieve Inclusive Growth,� and was chaired by the Philippine government and cochaired by the World Bank.

The event drew representatives from various foreign funding agencies like the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the Japan Bank for International Cooperation and the aid agencies of other foreign governments.

They were joined by participants from national government agencies, local government units, private sector, civil society and the academe.

The one-day forum heard presentations from high-level government officials, led by the President, on the priorities and key items of the administration�s development plan that could be supported by the country�s development partners.

Subsidy, more jobs

Aquino also cited his administration has allotted more funds to the CCT program, under which the government grants a monthly money and food subsidy to selected poorest families. From the one million families assisted last year, he said the government has increased the number of target beneficiaries to 2.3 million by the end of 2011.

Aquino�s economic managers have vowed to reverse the �jobless growth�, which economists have used to gauge economic development in the country through the years.

Budget Secretary Florencio Abad told a press briefing after the PDF that the economic team�s focus is to reverse the jobless growth.

�The economic team is emphatic about reversing the jobless growth. We want to solicit more investments in sectors like tourism, agriculture, etc.,� Abad said.

Although the Philippines has consistently posted growth, even at the height of the global economic recession in 2009, poverty incidence in the country has not declined, economists said.

In fact, latest government data showed that poverty incidence rose to 26.5 per cent in 2009 from 26.4 per cent in 2006 (poverty surveys are done once every three years).

Investments are needed to create jobs and increase overall incomes, economists said.

They said more people should be educated so they will meet the labor requirements of investors.

Social welfare secretary Corazon Soliman told the same briefing that the administration is still bent on hitting the targets under the Millennium Development Goal of halving poverty incidence by 2015 from the 1990s level, or to about 22 per cent.

�The target remains the same,� she said.


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