Cash-strapped gov't eyes investors to build airports

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Aug 18 2010 05:59 PM | Updated as of Aug 19 2010 01:59 AM

MANILA,  Philippines - The cash-strapped government  said on Wednesday it will call on the private sector to help build up to 6 airport terminals as it bids to boost the country's finances through increased tourism.

With the government needing to create jobs to ease widespread poverty while faced with a huge budget deficit for at least the next 2 years, tourism could become a key economic driver, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima said.

"This is one of the low-hanging opportunities that's almost there, except we need to build the infrastructure so tourists can get to tourist attractions and we can become a major tourist market," he told reporters.

Tourism Secretary Alberto Lim said the government could attract businesses using "build-operate-transfer" -- where a private group builds infrastructure, operates it for profit for a period and then transfers ownership to government.

He said the government was aiming to double the number of annual tourist arrivals to 6  million by 2016.

"We have identified six primary hubs," Lim said, naming the central island of Bohol as one area that needed a bigger airport to handle surging visitor traffic.

"The government can build the horizontal (runway and access roads), the private sector can build the vertical (passenger terminals)," he added.

Bohol and the five other planned hubs would funnel traffic from the main gateways of Manila and Cebu into the main tourist zones, he added.

The Philippines expects its budget deficit for the full year to hit P293 billion ($6.50 billion), equivalent to 3.9%  of gross domestic product.

Trade Secretary Gregory Domingo said the new Aquino administration's 6-year development program was anchored on its ability to mobilise private-sector investment.

"Given scarce government resources, it is private sector investment that will provide the growth and jobs needed in our economy," Domingo added.

"We need to improve our competitiveness. We need to make the investment climate more predictable," he added.