Next NEDA chief eyes ‘inclusive’ growth amid debt troubles

Workers are seen atop a construction site in the city of Pasig on May 27, 2022. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA — New Socio-Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan said Wednesday he would focus on balancing economic growth and poverty reduction as the country grapples with mounting debt.

The incoming administration must maintain the economic recovery, but it must be “cautious” in its spending, especially on infrastructure, given its national debt of 12.68 billion pesos and a debt-to-GDP ratio of 63 .5%.

Balisacan, who will again be the next chief executive of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), said he will review ongoing infrastructure projects under the Build, Build, Build program.

“We have to balance infrastructure on the one hand with social protection, health and education. What do you do with world-class infrastructure, when your people are classified, their children are poorly classified, the poorest in the region? That’s the dilemma,” Balisacan said.

“You want to push for world-class infrastructure, but health is in crisis, education is in crisis, so we have to go back and think about what is really fundamental. What is development? For me, development has to be shared by all, especially the poor. I would like to see that. The growth we put in place has to be very inclusive,” he added.

A review is crucial to ensure no resources are wasted, but Balisacan said no projects would be halted, especially those under construction.

“In the past, we had a lot of initiatives like this, we had a change of administration and it was interrupted. It’s bad practice. If it’s a good project, continue,” said balisacan.

“We’re not going to stop everything that’s going on. Clearly we have to continue what’s there. Obviously, if it’s blatantly wrong, the infrastructure, you have to do something about it.” he added.

Outgoing NEDA Director General Karl Kendrick Chua said that by the end of his tenure, there would be 17 completed flagship projects and 77 ongoing projects worth 4 trillion pesos “which are beyond beyond the ready shovel”.

At least 25 more have yet to be approved, he added.

Meanwhile, Balisacan said it will also focus on funding social protection and education as well as the 4Ps program.

Balisacan said the fight against poverty must be a priority. Gains in poverty reduction have been tempered by the COVID-19 pandemic. The poverty rate fell to 16.7% in 2018 from 23.5% in 2015.

But the 2021 data could be worse than 2018 due to the pandemic, he said.

Balisacan would meet with current NEDA officials before the inauguration of President-elect Ferdinand Bongbong Marcos Jr.

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