School building backlog raises questions about government effectiveness
By Diego Gabriel C.Robles
THE SHORTAGE OF CLASSROOMS, estimated at 40,000 units, is not just a matter of adequate funding, with the government’s ability to implement infrastructure projects also in question, economists have said.
“It’s not a question of the amount. I think it’s now a question of priorities and efficiency in working with the budget. The problem has been going on for so long. Every school year, that’s the problem. There must be a structural or systemic problem that needs to be addressed beyond the budget,” said economist John Paolo R. Rivera of the Asian Institute of Management.
“Money can’t do much. Even if you increase the budget to billions and trillions, if it’s not effused effectively, the problem will persist because you don’t address the root cause – that’s the heart of economic policy.
On Friday, Budget Secretary Amenah F. Pangandaman said that despite raising 3 billion pesos for school construction, the government still lacked sufficient funds in the proposed national budget for 2023 to remedy to the backlog in classrooms, citing budget constraints and absorptive capacity. line ministries and agencies.
Arlene D. Brosas, Deputy House Minority Leader and Gabriela’s representative, said the proposed 2023 budget of 5.268 billion pesos is more focused on road networks (429 billion pesos) and the acquisition of rights of way (28.6 billion pesos), much more than the allowance for the school. construction (13.9 billion pula) and housing and community amenities (2.5 billion pula).
“The question is which of these projects – schools versus infrastructure – has a higher social return. The national government should subsidize education for both urban and rural areas since it is the nation, especially Metro Manila, who benefits as a whole from education”, according to Leonardo A. Lanzona, director of the Ateneo Center for Economic Research and Development.
“Given the resumption of face-to-face or in-person teaching, with a target of 100% (on-site teaching) by November, any shortage of classrooms will be felt and could become a priority again,” said Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. Economist Michael L. Ricafort said, noting how funds for classrooms were reallocated during the height of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic as school facilities fell into disrepair.
Ricafort said the shortage suggests the government is not prioritizing education, as the Constitution requires.
Education had received the largest proposed budget allocation for 2023 at 852.8 billion pesos, up 8.2 percent.
“Does this mean that it is costly to maintain the education sector in terms of salaries, overheads and other operating expenses, even during the pandemic? said Mr. Ricafort.
“Some LGUs (local government units) lack land or (have to pay) more expensive land to build classrooms, especially in densely populated urban areas, and may have to construct more high-rise school buildings,” he added in a Viber. message.
Lazona attributed most of the shortage to “the inability to assess the true value of education to society”, saying the share of education was low compared to other countries in the Association of Southeast Asian nations.
“Implementation is a problem since the budget has mostly been allocated to teachers and other related items, not buildings,” Lanzona said in an email.
“With the Mandanas decision, local governments could be more responsible for building schools. But the national government still has to subsidize the schools as educated workers have migrated to Metro Manila, resulting in a heavier tax burden for local government units,” he added.
Ricafort said previous administrations had used the budget, along with public-private partnerships (PPPs), to build new classrooms.
“Looking ahead, there might be a chance that the budget will instead be included in the infrastructure projects while there are plans to use PPPs again as an option to finance the various infrastructure projects with the private sector, like in the past,” he said.