Thursday, October 27, 2005

Understanding Nation Building (part 15)

On Infrastructure

Infrastructure in the Philippines is a mix-match mixed of development characterized by the constant shifting of policy and direction every new administration or new sitting official. Blueprints for a Viable Philippines correctly summarizes the situation: “The Situation: The country’s underdevelopment is immediately visible to any outsider by the sad state of its urban mass transport system, its domestic air transportation, and inter-island maritime system. It is also seen in the lack of adequate sewerage, waste management, flood control, and traffic management systems." While indeed this is true, it fails to address the root cause: that is the grossly ineffective system of government that largely relies on every single bit of command, maybe including buying paperclips to Imperial Manila.

When blueprint says that "The advent of cellular phones has somehow eased communication throughout the country, but without this, conventional telecommunication remains grossly inadequate to a developing country’s needs. Without a solid program to modernize the country’s infrastructure, no meaningful development can possibly take place.” Clearly, the authors have no idea that modern wireless communication and Internet technologies are driving communication to a new level and they do not understand that infrastructure development should be driven by individual needs of the various cities and provinces and by market forces and not by a centralized authority or plan.

When the country is one of the world's largest user of the small messaging system, it is not short on using the a modern communications network and that only can translate the systems are adequate to meet the growing communications demand, which we shall discuss in greater detail point by point. And clearly, the rapid rise of cellular technology particularly in the Philippines is because it fits our situtation: islands separated by large bodies of water and wireless communication is the quickest delivery system. Blueprints clearly doesn't have an inkling of how these things operate and that their idea of fix-telephone lines are a throwback to more archaic times.

The Blueprint recommendation is a long extensive list. Let us dissect their recommendations. First they want to “Create a modern, comprehensive, integrated and efficient mass transport system in urban areas, and install more effective traffic management systems.”

Every City is different. Every municipality is unique in their needs--- some may need more seaports or trains or even airports. That said, it is quite useless to make a general policy concerning every city in the country. That said, let us first focus our specific attention to Metropolitan Manila which is probably what they had in mind, so pardon to those coming from the other provinces, we will get there in a bit.

Metro Manila is composed of several cities. It is a federation of sorts of those cities and by law, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority is in charge of, well city planning. (I am unfamiliar what the MMDA law says on traffic management, so please feel free to correct my assumptions).

Let us take a trip to Makati City, do you think you can find one street that doesn't have a pothole? Makati is supposed to be the first thing visitors see in Manila, yet its roads aren't paved properly. Something must be wrong.

Makati has a different set of traffic rules, regulations and enforcers with say, Manila or Quezon City. And the MMDA has their own enforcers and regulations. When one is caught in one city violating a traffic regulation in Manila, Makati will not honor Manila's. It really is a big headache.

Let us go to flood control. For years, the DPWH and MMDA and various local governments have had their independent flood control programs and sewerage problems. No one has been able to correct the constant flooding, not for a lack of trying.

City planning is being executed by MMDA and often times contrary to City planning by Local governments.

Therein lies our problem, which because of politics and self-interest, no one would want to see. Metro Manila has become a sprawling metropolis integrated with each other. For example, Traffic across the various cities will affect the others, flooding in one part will affect another part of the metropolis. It is time for one single government in Metropolitan Manila.

A single authority in Metropolitan Manila in charge of city planning, law and order, of services, elected by the entire metropolis is the key to providing an answer to the heterogeneous and mismatched development of the city. One metropolitan government similar for example in such metropolis like Montreal is our answer.

As for various cities in the country, development should be left to their various governments because they and only they can best determine what is best for their locality.

Let individual local governments decide on, what blueprints wants: “Install modern sewerage systems in urban areas (e.g. prohibit the use of open-trench drainage systems along roads and buildings, adopt effective flood control systems). Upgrade to international standards through international benchmarking and R & D the design and construction of roads and buildings, the domestic air transport system, and the telecommunications system. Create a modern comprehensive, integrated, and efficient mass transport system in urban areas, install more effective traffic management systems, reduce the number of buses and jeepneys in cities, and phase out the highly polluting two-stroke tricycles. Promote tropical and green architecture in the design of buildings and houses. ”

Blueprints recommends the development of “Develop a modern and extensive railway and highway system in Luzon, Mindanao and other major islands. Expand the “roll in, roll out” domestic shipping system and modernize the country’s inter-island maritime system. Formulate a master plan to interconnect the country’s major islands by “maritime highways,” bridges and tunnels.”

There are several endeavors already being executed: to restore (because we used to have them) a railway system linking Manila with the northern part of Luzon as well as the southern part. A highway system has been developed going out of Manila and towards Northern Luzon and the southern highway ought to follow suit in the next few years.

These developments require funds to build. These developments require funds to maintain properly. The cost to build them is in the multimillion pesos. The question is: why can we still hear people complaining paying for them? When you want something, a service, a product, people pay for that because the developer needs to pay their own people and supplier. Who will do business in the Philippines when every contract is a suspect for illegalities?

Studies are constantly made to project traffic on those railways and highways and the cost spread over years can clearly be computed. Don't you think someone asking another person for a service or a product deserves to be paid?

When Blueprints says to “Consolidate the DPWH, MMDA, LTO, LFRB and other similar agencies into a Department of Public Works and Land Transportation,” clearly they have no idea what they have in mind. These services should be left to individual cities and provinces because each have unique situations and requirements and any general policy concerning all of them is doomed to fail and we have in the past twenty years.

When blueprints says: “Ensure accountability and transparency of government officials (e.g. replace government bidding system based on the “lowest bid “ with the “longest warranty period”),” they don't realize that this is a problem. Do you know that any contractor or business will just add on the cost of warranty to the selling price? Ergo, startup cost will be much higher and you will essentially be buying something prepaid instead of having the goal of each project paying for itself through good financial management, we encourage bloated ineffective workmanship.

This is another bone to pick on Blueprints' recommendation: “Should a project fail or become defective within the warranty period, make criminally liable involved government officials, contractors, and other relevant private parties.” The question is: how can we be certain the project is a failure? How does it appy to every single scenario? Does this include Act of God? They don't know what they're talking about!

The question on Telecommunication is already being addressed by private corporations. PLDT/Smart, Globe Telecom and many others have established network infrastructure that is fit for 21st Century. They are slowly moving to next generation technology like 3G as their market allow, which is reasonable. WiFi is also catching up and faster Internet connectivity is becoming affordable, just as it is also becoming similarly affordable all over the world. Clearly, the authors of Blueprints do not understand the intricacies of communications or business or real world matters.

Government interference will become useless as we are emancipated from archaic forms of communication and media: tv, radio, print and as the world slowly embraces podcasting, blogging, websites, email and as every consumer becomes a producer themselves.

Infrastructure should be left to local initiatives and private activities spurred by needs/market forces and extensive government interference will only result in the same failure we have endured for the past 20 years.


Anonymous said...

I agree, the blueprint subscribes too much to Imperial Manila.

The real lack of infrastructure is in agriculture. We lack farm-to-market roads, irrigation, post-harvest facilities. We need certified planting materials at reasonable cost, credits, markets for our crops. These infrastructures will address the majority of the citizenry, which is in the countryside. The lack of these infrastructure also explains why land reform has been a failure. This also explains why, up to now, we cannot be self-sufficient in food. And still have to import rice.

It's about time priorities for infrastructure be focused on the countryside. It is time that urban migration be stopped by creating more jobs on the farm.