Potential and Reality

The current Philippine government’s use of the PPP program as the end all answer to the need for public infrastructure is as the article below best describes it as a work of progress. While that may be true, with less than 2 years left in its term, I would think a greater level of focus, resource allocation and program execution should be given to address the knowledge management needs of the program. This is particularly critical as the projects become more complex. The time has come to spend the available time to use the lessons learned the past 4 years to develop a system that will strengthen and document the processes and procedures in place so that they can be robust enough to continue even in the next administration (assuming it will adopt it). Then maybe can we transform the potentials of the program into the reality of an infrastructure building country we aspire to be.

From BusinessWorld Philippines

November 02, 2014

The PPP promise, a work in progress

AFTER A FALSE START back in 2010, the Aquino administration’s flagship public-private partnership (PPP) program finally roared to life. Several large projects have been auctioned off under seemingly competitive conditions that, contrary to model forecasts, yielded substantial revenues for the government. Moreover, the government, with the help of a donor-sponsored project development fund, has built up a pipeline of about 50 projects for PPP that it has taken on international road shows to attract more foreign investors.

However, as the government exhausts the first batch of projects — which featured revenue streams that appealed to private investors — and moves to more complicated greenfield projects, there is a high risk of another stall. Having observed closely the problems the government encountered in the newly awarded projects, we’ve identified some policy, institutional and political issues that, left uncorrected, will make it hard to sustain the winning streak.

After a false start and a few years limping along, the Aquino government’s flagship PPP program finally roared to life. In relatively quick succession, the government bid out or awarded four projects worth P125 billion and rolled out six more costing about P170 billion. What was particularly surprising was that the auctions yielded substantial concession fee payments to the government, as against pre-bid financial model results showing that the government would have to provide subsidies to enhance project cash flows.

Encouraged by the successes, the government through the PPP Center has lined up another seven projects worth about P180 billion for approval by the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) board, and is preparing feasibility studies for 10 other projects. In all, there are about 50 projects in the PPP Center’s pipeline which the government is also actively marketing to foreign investors through a series of international road shows.

The mood has not always been this upbeat due largely to unmet expectations following the government’s high publicity launch of the program back in 2010. Then, the much-hyped “PPP is the solution to the infrastructure shortage in the country” failed to consider that in the wake of controversies surrounding failed PPPs in the past, both sides of the partnerships had their guard up and were distrustful of each other. In particular in the aftermath of the Asian crisis, the public sector had to grapple with and absorb some of the liabilities in PPP contracts, and for years leading up to 2010 preferred to manage the risks from contingent liabilities by avoiding them altogether. In turn, the private sector was particularly leery of government contract promises that the latter had time and again failed to keep, notably delays in tariff adjustments in most sectors — power, water, rail, toll roads — particularly during politically sensitive periods.

Moreover, there were very few market-ready projects in the pipeline at the time and fast-tracking last-mile adjustments to ready projects was constrained by technical limitations in implementing agencies. It was thus a slow process of learning by doing on a per-project basis, tentatively delineating risks among the parties involved, with the government deftly testing what risks the market could bear through actual biddings of smaller projects.

These included (a) a small 4-kilometer (km) toll road in December 2011 that very soon became stuck in right-of-way (ROW) disputes, and (b) a project to build classrooms, awarded in September 2012, that was the first of its kind in that it relied solely on government payments for its cash flows and thus was not able to attract more bidders willing to assume congressional appropriations risk. Critics also pointed out that this project and its second phase the following year lacked features of true PPPs in that the private sector merely handled construction of the schools and were not exposed to market and operating risks.

The first major win for the Aquino government was the P15.5-billion, 7.75-km, four-lane elevated NAIA Expressway project that had been in the drawing board for decades and was finally brought to market with donor technical assistance. Albeit it attracted only two bidders, the auction, won by a consortium led by one of the large domestic conglomerates (SMC) in May 2013, yielded P11 billion in concession fees to the government and by early 2014 had already broken ground. Another win six months later was a five-way bid in November to install a P1.7-billion single-ticketing system for Metro Manila’s rail system, where the winning bid was a P1.1-billion payment to the government.

But it has not become easier. The latest auctions, involving three multibillion-peso transport projects, have been uphill struggles for both the government and the private sector. The challenges that have emerged during the bid stage are reminders of the inherent difficulty and associated time lag of doing PPPs, especially in a developing country like the Philippines where institutions remain weak and bidders take for granted that calling on the courts, Congress or the President to intervene on their behalf is part of the rules of the game. Such politicization of the formal PPP processes tarnishes the program’s image and dulls investors’ appetites. Here are a few of the project holdups:

The biggest and the most complicated one to date, it has been subjected to repeated feasibility studies. The first bidding in August 2013 failed due to misallocation of risk (shifting to the private sector the uncertainty of real property taxes) and the insufficiency of allowed subsidy. It was rebid in May this year with the lone bidder (out of seven prequalified) winning. The award was delayed to September by a still ongoing legal tussle involving the location of a “common station” shared with another rail line.

Seven bidders showed up in November 2013, with the consortium of Megawide Construction Group, which partnered with India’s GMR Infrastructure, winning the bid. Citing conflict of interest, the losing bidder challenged the qualifications of the winning group, which was then subjected to a Senate inquiry. Even with a legal challenge filed before the Supreme Court, the project was awarded in April, delayed by a few months.

Four groups vied in the June bidding, with the SMC consortium disqualified based on a noncompliant bid bond. Of the three remaining, the Ayala-Aboitiz consortium offered the highest premium, amounting to P11.66 billion. The SMC group claimed that it would have won with a P20 billion had it not been disqualified on a “technicality.” It appealed to the President to overturn its disqualification and the Palace issued an order in late June suspending the awarding of the project. The issue has yet to be resolved.
(Next week: Moving forward)
This piece is based on a GlobalSource report by Christine Tang and Romeo Bernardo

Romeo Bernardo was finance undersecretary during the Cory Aquino and Ramos administrations, and board director of Institute of Development and Econometric Analysis Inc.


Article location : http://www.bworldonline.com/content.php?section=Opinion&title=The PPP promise, a work in progress&id=97127

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