Stimulus still to be finalized

BusinessWorld

Posted at Feb 13 2009 02:10 AM | Updated as of May 09 2009 06:05 AM

The country's economic managers will meet in the next two weeks to tackle ways to accelerate spending and to review whether existing macroeconomic targets remain achievable, a Cabinet official yesterday said.

In an interview following a Senate committee hearing, Finance Secretary Margarito B. Teves said the meeting would thresh out details of a proposed P330-billion economic stimulus program.

"It (the stimulus) is urgent because we need to try to dampen the adverse effects of the global financial crisis. Within the next two weeks, we can get the more detailed specifics. Our goal is to accelerate spending as well as increased spending," he said.

"We will take up the targets in the DBCC (Development Budget Coordination Committee) within the next two weeks, and I will make an official announcement," Mr. Teves added.

Specific details of the P330-billion economic stimulus remain sparse, including its funding sources. Officials have said it will be fueled by, among others, the P1.415-trillion 2009 budget and a P100-billion infrastructure fund being set up by the private sector and government financial institutions.

The 2009 national budget, approved by Congress last month, has yet to be signed by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, forcing the government to operate under a reenacted 2008 outlay for the first two months of the year.

Commitments for the P100-billion infrastructure fund, meanwhile, have yet to be finalized as the government has refused to grant guarantees sought by the private sector.

The Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), which floated the proposal, has threatened to walk away in case the guarantees are not given and if the projects do not begin within the first half.

"It is not yet finished. We have not identified the projects to be funded but we are already working on it," PCCI Chairman Emeritus Donald G. Dee said in a telephone interview yesterday.

A proposal to tap Social Security System (SSS) funds has also been criticized by legislators as requiring the consent of SSS members.

Mr. Teves, meanwhile, also said this year’s P102-billion deficit cap was still in place but could be revised if conditions warrant.

"We will review the targets given the very difficult conditions," he said.

"If that (a revision) happens, we will determine how much to borrow from the domestic market and the international market."

Other economic managers have said the shortfall could rise to P140 billion given the need to pump-prime the economy.

Yesterday, Mrs. Arroyo said she had yet to receive the 2009 budget bill.

Asked if she was considering vetoing some items, she reiterated that a copy had yet to be transmitted to Malacañang.

University of the Philippines economist Benjamin E. Diokno said delayed transmittal and approval of the budget could affect pump-priming initiatives intended for the first half.

"I’m sure there are significant changes from what President Arroyo submitted last July and what Congress approved last month. They could draft a veto message. The Palace will have to look into it and that process, including consolidation, will take at least two weeks," he said.