PPP vs ODA, Part 2

* This is my article in BusinessWorld last week.


“The first lesson of economics is scarcity: there is never enough of anything to fully satisfy all those who want it. The first lesson of politics is to disregard the first lesson of economics.”
— Thomas Sowell (US economist and political philosopher)

This paper is a continuation of the same topic in this column last June 8. To summarize previous arguments:

  1. User-pay principle via public-private partnership (PPP) means only those whose the service or facility will pay for its construction and maintenance. As a result, the rest of the population in other parts of the country will be spared of such cost.
  1. All-taxpayers-pay principle means projects are paid by current taxpayers through the annual general appropriations act (GAA) or by future taxpayers through official development assistance (ODA). Taxpayers from Visayas and Mindanao will also pay for toll roads, dams, airports even if they hardly use these since these are located in Luzon.
  1. It is not true that infrastructure projects funded by official development assistance (ODA) and/or taxpayers through the GAA are more beneficial to the public than PPP-funded projects. Iloilo Airport — which was funded by ODA — took longer to build and incurred cost overruns compared to the PPP-funded Mactan-Cebu Airport, which remains on schedule despite initial delays.
  1. There are inherent problems and risks to the public under GAA- and ODA-funded projects since ODA funding normally has strings attached. Thus, a project funded by China ODA may require the government to hire Chinese contractors, suppliers, managers, and even workers.

We now add more reasons why the Dutertenomics’ shift from PPP to ODA (mainly from China) funding of its build-build-build plan is unwise and risky.

  1. In a Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) forum two weeks ago, finance expert Vaughn Montes cited the big contrast between ODA-funded Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEx) and the PPP-funded Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway (TPLEx). SCTEx took seven years from government approval to completion, two years delayed, and cost nearly twice at $32.8 billion vs. the approved budget of $18.7 billion or P341 million per kilometer. TPLEx cost only P61 million per kilometer.
  1. Investor confidence in the Philippine economy has gained momentum compared to some of our neighbors in the region and it is not wise to constrain such confidence by ditching many PPP projects and shift to ODA and GAA funding.

The expansion of FDI in the Philippines from 2000 to 2009 (last year of the Gloria Arroyo administration) was not significant (less than twice). However, during the same period, FDI expanded almost five times in Singapore, about four times in Indonesia and Vietnam, about three times in Thailand, Cambodia, South Korea, and Taiwan.

But from 2009-2015 or just six years, FDI in the Philippines expanded two and a half times while there was only two times expansion in Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Myanmar; and less than two times expansion in Thailand, Malaysia, Hong Kong, South Korea, and Taiwan. It is this kind of investor confidence and momentum that can greatly propel the Philippines into more investments and job creation, faster growth and infrastructure buildup.


  1. The government’s PPP Center noted that “most PPP bids received in recent years have come at lower than the approved government costs. If in the instance that actual project costs turned out higher than approved government costs, the private sector partner assumes or shoulders cost overrun risk.”
  1. 201706146745fThe China government is the least trustworthy source of ODA funding considering that it is acting belligerently and aggressively in bullying the Philippines and other ASEAN neighbors that have claims over the many islands and islets in the South China Sea or West Philippine Sea (WPS). Note also that recent China-funded projects in the country were notoriously scandal-ridden — North Rail and National Broadband Network (NBN)-ZTE projects.

The insistence of the Duterte administration to compromise the income and savings of Filipino taxpayers — even if there are many big private investors, local and foreign, that are willing to shoulder the costs and risks of infrastructure projects — may result in shenanigans and large-scale corruption.

And its consistent pronouncement of relying more on the money and contractors of the bully state across the WPS would further weaken the Philippines’ territorial claims to those islands and exclusive economic zone and weaken the rule of law.

Honest minds in the Duterte Cabinet should remind the President of the economic and political dangers that it is treading on.


Philippine industrial policy

* This is my article in BusinessWorld Top 1,000 Corporations 2015, published in November 2015. I forgot to post this earlier, no online copy of that publication, only hard copy.
20160106_102536Quo vadis, industrial policy?

A recurring question in the Philippines that crops up almost anytime anywhere is, “Why has the Philippines not industrialized as much as its East Asian neighbors?” It is a valid question, that opens up a plethora of valid and invalid explanations.

In a paper two years ago by former PIDS economist and now DTI Assistant Secretary Rafaelita M. Aldaba  summarized recent Philippine industrial policy as shown in table 1.


Source: Rafaelita Aldaba, “Twenty years after Philippine trade liberalization and industrialization: what has happened and where do we go from here,” PIDS Discussion Paper No. 2013-21, March 2013, Table 1.

20160106_102608It is a correct assessment, although it seems the import substitution industrialization (ISI) policy was just more than two decades (1950-72), not three. There was a “decontrol” policy or removal of quantitative restrictions (QRs) in 1962, and starting in the mid-60s, a revival of manufacturing was initiated but was not sustained.

Export orientation on a limited scale was initiated in the mid-70s, coinciding with the world oil price shock in 1973 and the period of cheap foreign loans due to over-flowing petro dollars. It also coincided with some political stability because of political repression during the Martial Law regime.

There is a short but good literature on world and Philippines economic history from the late 1800s to the last decade written by Dr. de Dios of the UP School of Economics (UPSE) and Dr. Williamson of Harvard University. It shows that in Asia, the Philippines was third to Japan and China to attain fast growth of 5 percent or more a century ago. It was not sustained though, in the two decades before World War Two.


(Source: Bénétrix et al. (2012), Table 4. Cited by Emmanuel S. de Dios and Jeffrey G. Williamson, “Deviant Behavior: A Century of Philippine Industrialization”, UPSE Discussion Paper No. 2013-03, April 2013, Table 3.)

The post-World War Two ISI period pushed annual growth rates of Japan, Taiwan and S. Korea to double digits and the Philippines resumed its early century dynamism.

Messrs  de Dios and Williamson noted that “While the Philippines conformed to the industrial convergence pattern, it began to deviate sharply from the pack in the 1980s.”

The years between 1984‐1991 was a “period of large‐scale relocation to Southeast Asia of Japanese manufacturing industries in response to the yen revaluation following the Plaza‐Louvre Accords. This wave of foreign direct investments (FDIs) benefited Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia and led to the build‐up of a significant export‐oriented manufacturing in those countries”, the two academics added.

The Philippines of course could not optimize its FDI harvest that period because its Constitution made and ratified in 1986, does not welcome huge FDIs in many sectors of the economy.

Nonetheless, the government of then President Corazon C. Aquino in 1991 pursued a massive trade liberalization and official abandonment of protectionism when it reduced tariffs to a range of 3%‐30%. The Ramos administration continued the liberalization process capped by the Philippines joining the World Trade Organization (WTO), and undertook a new wave of tariff reductions in his last year in office in 1998.

Trade liberalization in the 90s was not just a Philippines or Asian phenomenon but a global one.

After many decades of trade negotiations and deadlocks at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the WTO was formally created in 1994.

To summarize, the Philippines’ post-WW2 industrialization policy can be categorized into three major periods: (1) trade protectionism and import substitution from 1950-72, (2) limited liberalization and export promotion  from 1973-90, and (3) accelerated trade liberalization from 1991 onwards, with “blips”of protectionism in 1997-99 Asian financial turmoil, then 2008-2010 global  financial crisis that started in the US.

Philippine membership  in the ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) Free Trade Area, Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation, various bilateral FTAs and Economic Partnership Agreements, emerging Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP, ASEAN + 6) and the lure of joining the Trans Pacific Partnership  (TPP), are important alliances to sustain trade and investment  liberalization.

There are two important challenges for the Philippines to optimize its membership  in those mega trade alliances: (1) remove investment protectionism by abolishing the “reserved only for Filipinos” (or zero FDI) in some sectors, and 60-40 restrictions to FDIs in other sectors. And (2) relax services protectionism especially in the practice of profession, where foreign professionals are barred from practicing here while Filipino professionals are allowed in many other countries.


Mr. Oplas is the President of Minimal Government Thinkers, Inc., a Manila-based think tank advocating free market economics, and a Fellow of the South East Asia Network for Development (SEANET), a Kuala Lumpur-based regional center advocating free trade and free mobility of people in  the region.

FDIs in South and East Asia

* This is my article in Business 360 magazine in Kathmandu, Nepal, August 2015 issue.

1Foreign direct investments in South and East Asia

Foreign investments are among the key ingredients for developing countries to hasten their growth and development. Two prominent proof of this are small territories, small population, but big economies Hong Kong and Singapore. They started as very poor economies in the 1950s and 60s respectively and their openness to global trade and investments very early have allowed them to maximize the financial, technological and managerial resources that foreign businessmen and professionals could share.

There are two main avenues for foreign capital to enter an economy. Via foreign direct investments (FDIs) and via portfolio investments like the stock market.  Here we will discuss only FDIs and leave the latter to future topics in this column.

The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has released the World Investment Report (WIR) 2015 in late June 2015. In the report are a number of very interesting data, some of which will be discussed here.

Cumulative values of FDI inward stock, net of capital outflows, is an important indicator of foreign investments in an economy. Here are the numbers.


South Asian economies overall were not able to maximize the potentials of FDIs all these years. India has the biggest FDI inward stock in the region, but comparing what it got with small population, small territories Hong Kong and  Singapore, the investments  it has attracted looked modest.

Nepal in particular needs to be more open to foreign investments considering the small amount it has attracted with just half-billion dollars as of 2014.

Socialist economies China and Vietnam that allowed certain degrees of economic freedom and the market system were able to maximize the potentials and benefits of FDIs. Vietnam’s FDI stock has expanded 23x in just two decades while China’s has expanded by 15x.

Other South East Asian economies were also able to expand their FDI stock rather fast. Aside from Vietnam’s 23x expansion, Singapore and Indonesia expanded 16x, Philippines 11x, and Thailand 9x.

We now check the value of FDI inflows over the last three years. The numbers for Afghanistan, Nepal and Bhutan are not good, the low values they got in 2012 further shrank in the next two years. Thus, the share of FDI as percent of gross domestic capital formation (GDCF) or simply total domestic investments, has been declining.

Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Maldives have retained the average inflows per year while India and Pakistan have ramped up the FDIs they are attracting.

2Some important lessons that South Asian economies can learn from their neighbors in North East and South East Asia would be the following.

3One, being open to global trade and investments would mean being open to the various opportunities that  other economies in other parts of the planet can share. Global business is about integration and competition, about complementation and substitution. There are lessons to be learned, opportunities to be opened, so that business risks can be minimized and better handled.

Two, as shown in the numbers above, Hong Kong and Singapore are very good proof and examples that openness to global investments and trade can bring in more investments than one can imagine and hope for.

Three, there is a need to reverse the recent decline in FDI inflows especially in Nepal and Bhutan. More than high profit, foreign businessmen are concerned with the security of their investments, that these will  not be confiscated or nationalized even in periods of domestic political upheavals. Having the rule of law, respect of private property ownership, and ensuring the economic freedom of entrepreneurs, local or foreign, small or big, are important ingredients to attract investments, both foreign and local.