(STAR) By Iris Gonzales and Elisa Osorio - Investors lauded yesterday the first gathering of prospective participants in the Aquino administration’s public-private partnership (PPP) program, which attracted at least 500 local and foreign fund managers.

“It was well organized and well attended and filled with substance. I have never seen a Philippine government more serious about PPP,” said John Forbes, senior adviser of the Investment Climate Improvement Project of the American Chamber of Commerce. “It was a great start.”

The president of the European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, Hubert D’Aboville, described the two-day gathering as “excellent.”

“It was the first time I heard all (Cabinet) secretaries speaking the same language, singing the same tune, all behind the President,” D’Aboville told The STAR. “It is obvious that the problems have been well identified and solutions proposed.”

Forbes, however, noted certain problems: “Only a few projects are actually close to ready to go and bureaucracy needs expert help to prepare them. They still have quite a way to go to contracts and execution.”

“I hope foreign players will come in to provide balance and competition for big local players, who say they want to do everything,” Forbes told The STAR. “With PPP there’s room for lots of investors when the playing field is level.”

Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima hailed the business forum on the implementation of the PPP framework as a success. He said many investors expressed interest in the various projects in the pipeline.

“We’re very excited. There has been a lot of firm interest among investors,” Purisima declared.

Local businessmen also expressed support for the PPP projects of the government.

Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) president Francis Chua said they are willing to invest and even give discounts for construction materials needed for the infrastructure projects.

Federation of Philippine Industries (FPI) chairman Jesus Arranza also declared all-out support for the PPP projects.

“Our members have already offered to give special discounts for construction materials,” Arranza said.

Arranza said his colleagues at the FPI had committed good prices for the construction materials that would be needed for the projects.

Chua, on the other hand, said he is certain that many of his colleague-businessmen at the PCCI are interested in investing in the PPP projects.

World Bank Country Director Bert Hofman, who spoke at the gathering, also lauded the “very strong show from the government.”

“The investors I talked to liked it, and saw prospects,” Hofman told The STAR.

San Miguel Corp. (SMC) chairman Ramon Ang was among those who already expressed willingness to invest in any of the projects listed under the PPP, he said.

“It was recently launched and I only know of one of our members (Ang) who would like to invest but I am certain that there are more PCCI companies who would like to take part in this,” Chua said.

Chua hailed the government effort to launch the PPP to both local and international businessmen as a good move.

“It is a very good start because these are honest to goodness programs,” Chua remarked.

“PCCI fully supports government’s call on public-private partnership. We believe in the long term results and benefits of such initiative as it will not only build better roads and bridges but also create jobs, fuel investments and boost the tourism industry, thus attaining sustained economic growth,” he said.

Ang, for his part, said his colleague-businessmen “are excited” to participate in various projects such as infrastructure and energy.

Manuel Pangilinan, who heads Metro Pacific Investments Corp., said his company will look into the infrastructure initiatives presented under the PPP.

“That’s interesting for us to look at,” Pangilinan said.

Chua said the PPP should intensify the development of viable feasibility studies of priority projects jointly launched by the government and the private sector.

But he said the lack of feasibility study for some of the PPP projects would not be an obstacle for investors.

“There are so many projects. The most we can do is promise that a feasibility study will be made,” Chua said.

Chua also suggested enhancing and expanding the existing guidelines on the Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) scheme to allow greater private sector involvement and flexibility to participate in worthwhile projects.

Chua urged his colleagues at the PCCI to take a serious look at the PPP projects.

“We will be promoting the PPP in our regional chapters and even during our missions overseas,” he said.

Chua said PCCI vice president Philip Romualdez will be going to Hong Kong next week to stir interest for the PPP.

During the forum, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Cayetano Paderanga explained many developing countries use the PPP as a tool for delivering urgent projects in critical development areas such as power, water and sanitation; transportation facilities that include roads, bridges, tollways, ports and airports; as well as in social services like education and health.

“A credible government and an investment-friendly climate make the Philippines a prime spot for private capital markets looking to invest,” Paderanga said.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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