MANILA, OCTOBER 9, 2003  (BULLETIN) By Edu H. Lopez  - Socio-Economic Planning Secretary Romulo Neri expects a stronger growth of the domestic economy in the last quarter of 2003 as weather conditions improve and the world economy picks up.

Neri, who is also Director General of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), told members of the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines (FINEX) that the gross domestic product is seen to grow by 3.8 to 4.3 percent for the period July to September.

The economy would most likely average 4.2 percent for the year, the lowend of the government's forecast of 4.2 to 5.2 percent, said Neri.

For 2004, overall growth is expected to further rally between 5.2 and 6.0 percent, he said.

"The upturn for the second half of the year is due to the recovery taking place in US and Japan, along with Europe. Also, Asian economies are recovering from the impact of SARS. Electronics sector will also strengthen with demand picking up and inventories drawn down," said Neri.

The absence of the El Niņo phenomenon in the second semester will also prop up agriculture production, according to Neri. Because of this, the Department of Agriculture is expecting palay and corn production to expand by 2.5 percent and 2.0 percent respectively during the period.

Economic prospects are better in 2004 although it will be dependent on the "results of the political exercise next year" according to Neri.

In 2004, agriculture is projected to expand by 3.7 to 4.7 percent with the continued implementation of the Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act and the acceleration of the implementation of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program after the Supreme Court's resolution of the Marcos ill-gotten wealth in favor of the government.

Neri added that by next year, the manufacturing and construction sectors have gained ground from stronger exports, pegging the industry's growth forecast between 4.5 and 5.4 percent.

The services sector will also expand vigorously by 5.6 to 6.6 percent next year as telecommunication, trade, and private services continue to perform well.

"The financial sector will grow as bank lending improves in the wake of better corporate balance sheets and the reduction in non-performing loans," Neri noted.

Gov't firms fail to remit P40B By PEARL O. BANTILLO  (MALAYA)

Government Service Insurance System president Winston Garcia yesterday said that 30,000 government offices owe GSIS P40 billion in unremitted premium.

Garcia said these government offices get benefits in excess of what they remit.

But this has been corrected, he explained when computerization showed the discrepancies.

Garcia noted that even the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) owe it P7.1 billion.

Garcia said that before the pension fund's systems of operations were checked, it was releasing benefits that do not correspond to the premium paid by each member.

The computerization program, undertaken in January showed more than 30,000 government offices were not remitting the correct premium.

In the old process, the GSIS relied on the service record of government employees in determining the benefits to which they are entitled to according to Garcia.

"A lot of agencies were taking advantage of the ' `blind faith and trust' on certifications of government offices," Garcia said.

The computerization program that took four months to complete compared actual remittances of government offices against the benefits claimed.

The available records of the pension fund showed that various government offices owes it billions of pesos in premium.

After the four-month halt in operations to make way for the computerization, Garcia said, the GSIS is now basing the release of the funds on the computerized records not on the service record of the government agencies, surprising government employees with a lower amount of benefits and loans available to them.

Garcia said he was just trying to rectify 20-30 years of malpractice and for that he is being accused of mismanagement.

Garcia said the reforms are imperative for members not to live a 'lifetime of regret" even if it means putting his position at stake.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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