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Marcos says red tape tops foreign investor concerns

PRESIDENT FERDINAND R. MARCOS, JR. — PHILIPPINE STAR/ KRIZ JOHN ROSALES

PRESIDENT Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. cited red tape and power costs as the top issues raised by foreign investors.

Responding to a question from a media panel on Monday about transparency concerns surrounding his administration, Mr. Marcos said: “They bring up ease of doing business, they bring up the cost of energy, they bring up the problems of legislative guarantees. Those who are actually contemplating putting good money in the Philippines have other issues,” he said. “Accountability and transparency are not an issue.”

Nonetheless, Mr. Marcos said it was “axiomatic” that governments should uphold accountability and transparency, adding, “Who’s going to argue with that?”

“Problems relating to the ease of doing business and legislative guarantees fall squarely within investor concerns on accountability and transparency,” Terry L. Ridon, a public investment analyst, said via chat when asked to comment.

“These are major governance issues which make the country less desirable for foreign investment, despite the assurances of the President during his international roadshows.”

Mr. Ridon said ease of doing business concerns do not only include delays in securing regulatory permits and licenses but also include “the intentional delay in various agencies and local governments with the expectation of grease money to expedite proceedings.”

He said concerns about legislative intervention are serious governance and accountability concerns, citing legislators’ refusal to renew the franchise of broadcaster ABS-CBN Corp. during the previous administration. 

“We had seen in recent years the intentional revision and expiration of legislative franchises as a result not of business losses but due to political considerations,” Mr. Ridon said.

“Foreign investment cannot have a governance climate under these conditions, and it is the President’s role to untangle these issues, if he hopes for an expansion in foreign investment.”

Leonardo A. Lanzona, who teaches economics at Ateneo De Manila, said the issues cited by foreign investors “all require accountability and transparency.”

“A country that has all the necessary requirements for development is a country that has already achieved the optimal level of accountability and transparency,” he said via chat.

The Marcos administration should learn from its predecessor whose goals, according to Mr. Lanzona, “were precisely to ease the cost of business, reduce energy costs and create a unified legislative system (but) without transparency and accountability.”

“The former administration did not generate enough investment for the country. More than axioms, these are key ingredients to the country’s development.”

Mr. Marcos returned from the Swiss mountain resort of Davos where he attended the World Economic Forum. He announced upon his arrival that the government has secured new investment pledges as a result of its efforts in Davos.

At the Monday briefing before the media panel, Mr. Marcos said “the bureaucracy has to be streamlined” to meet the government’s ease of doing business goals. 

“Let’s digitalize the government… that will take us a long way (in terms of) ease of doing business.”

Mr. Marcos added that the key to resolving the issue of power costs is understanding that the power supply is not keeping pace with demand.

“The demand for power far exceeds the supply that we are producing. And there is also a problem in distribution which is why the prices are so high,” he said. “That has to be fixed also.”

Mr. Marcos said he sought to attract power investors during his foreign trips. “Of course, we are stressing renewables because we’re trying to improve the mix of power generation between traditional (power sources) and renewables.”

The President defended his foreign trips, asking journalists to consider the problem from the point of view of return on investment — “Do we bring something back or do we not?”

When pressed whether his government would disclose how much his foreign trips cost, Mr. Marcos said it will happen “once we’ve calculated everything.”

The President confirmed he will attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, scheduled for November in the US. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza