Agriculture Infrastructure News Analysis

‘Project Gridlock’ – running out of road

In just two years, the World Bank-funded Philippine Rural Development Project (PRDP),  a US$586 million, six-year scheme designed to open up the country’s farms and fisheries sector by “prioritising local investments in rural infrastructure” – US$452.13 million was set aside from the kitty for this – has so far managed to build five kilometres of rural roads.

According to the World Bank’s latest Implementation Status & Results Report, 181 rural road projects are approved; 73 of which are “under implementation”. Of these, 408 km-worth are under construction while another 711 km are either approved for procurement or “under procurement”. The project is supposed to be completed by 2018.

That’s 1,119 kilometres of road – not far short of twice Britain’s longest road, the 660km A1 connecting London and Edinburgh; it’s the distance from New York City to Memphis, Tennessee – which means that the PRDP has just two years left if it is to deliver 1,114 km of roadway to the Philippine countryside. We don’t want to belabour the point, but that’s like building the equivalent of three roads from Taipei in the north of Taiwan to Kaohsiung City in the south.

At this stage it looks like a tall order to lay that amount of road for works schemes in all 80 provinces. And while there seems to be no real concern being expressed by the World Bank, which kicked in 75% of the PRDP’s total cost – the rest comprised, 13% from the national government, 11% from local government units and 1% from the Global Environmental Facility – it’s likely that Agriculture Secretary, Manny Piñol, will want to see the pace of construction picking up very smartly.

So will Public Works and Highways Secretary, Mark Villar. As too will Agrarian Reform Secretary, Rafael Mariano, Social Welfare and Development Secretary, Judy Taguiwalo, and Tourism Secretary, Wanda Corazon Teo. Each of these five departments has a lot riding on these roads. In fact the PRDP was designed to “complement the programmes” of those agencies specifically.

Of course, good old Philippine-spun red tape can take much of the credit for the implementation gridlock. In Central Visayas (Region VII), for example, not one single road has been laid while a number are still “under procurement”. Through the scheme, US$9.2 million-worth of roadway for Cebu and Bohol has been approved by the PRDP’s National Project Coordination Office.

But the rehabilitation of the farm-to-market road at Sagbayan, Bohol – a US$1.03 million route to benefit some 2,000 farmers – is the only project on which work has actually started. Compliance factors in the submission of documents, the bidding process, and finalising ‘implementation management agreements,’ it seems, have all created gridlock.

Lack of rural roads is one of the main reasons why Philippine agriculture is struggling to make the economic contribution it should. Trailing the services and industry sectors by a long way, last year agriculture production grew by just 0.11% – admittedly, that was an El Niño year, but agriculture hasn’t seen any significant growth for three years. And most observers of the sector agree that it won’t until the rural infrastructure has been put in place to support it.

Under the previous administration, while prioritising major urban infrastructure projects, inter-city highway construction and airport upgrades, rural infrastructure became the forgotten cousin. That will change under President Rodrigo Duterte who is determined to flow funds into rural development. Some 80% of infrastructure projects approved by his predecessor were in and around Metro Manila. That balance will be redressed also. In the words of Finance Secretary, Carlos Dominguez: “We are going to prioritise projects outside of Metro Manila. We are going to execute projects in the countryside”.

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