MANILA, December 21, 2005
 (STAR) By Paolo Romero - President Arroyo has ordered a "pump priming" of the economy, pouring in as much as P50 billion worth of investments over the next three months.

Malacañang officials said yesterday the President wants as much as P50 billion to be used to boost infrastructure, food, health and the education sector.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said Mrs. Arroyo issued the directive during the joint meeting of the Cabinet and the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) board at Malacañang.

Officials noted during the meeting that the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) had slowed down during the third quarter due to government under-spending.

"The President wants to speed up implementation of infrastructure projects and the delivery of basic services to contribute to growth," Bunye said.

"Everybody (in the Cabinet meeting) agreed that the intended effect is to shore up the economy," he said.

The GDP slowed down to 4.1 percent in the third quarter of the year but Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, chairman of the House committee on economic affairs and one of the President’s closest advisers, earlier assured this was no cause for concern.

"It is just one quarter and well within a nice growth trajectory," Salceda said.

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Augusto Santos and Budget Secretary Romulo Neri said in separate interviews that around P30 billion to P50 billion could be spent by the government to pump-prime the economy.

The amount apparently indicated the restraint the government had exercised in its expenditures through most of the year in order to meet its P180-billion deficit target for the year. Economic managers predict the government might be able to achieve a deficit of P130 billion to P150 billion by yearend.

Government projects were apparently put on hold despite the assurance of funding to ensure the deficit target for 2005 would be met.

Based on records, Neri said the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) had issued notices of cash allocations (NCAs) to several agencies.

These included the Departments of Public Works and Highways, Agriculture, and Education, Neri said.

Neri noted these agencies appeared to have not spent the allocations for their programmed projects.

He said some lawmakers who were issued NCAs did not spend their allocations on infrastructure projects. The NCA is a notice from the DBM saying cash is available for a particular project.

"There’s a lot of unspent money, so the President wants an acceleration of the disbursements," Neri said.

Santos, for his part, said there had been a P30 billion to P50 billion slack in funds, "so the President wants (this) spent on food, education, health, housing and infrastructure within the next three months."

On the food sector, Santos said Mrs. Arroyo ordered the expansion and acceleration of the schoolchildren feeding program and the setting up of "soup kitchens" for the poor.

For education, the money would go to the increased implementation of vaccination and nutrition programs, he said.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved