Gov’t think tank questions focus on irrigationBy Christian V. Esguerra
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA—Before his State of the Nation Address, President Aquino fired a top agriculture official for failing to meet his administration’s target for “new areas of irrigation.”
But is it prudent for the government to invest heavily in irrigation programs today considering flaws in design and implementation of previous irrigation projects?
The government think tank, Philippine Institute of Development Studies (PIDS), has warned legislators that “irrigation has not been found to be effective” among programs classified as “goods with public good features.”
“This places in question the current plan to ramp up investment on irrigation, making it far the largest single item for public spending on agriculture,” according to a PIDS study by Dr. Roehlano Briones, which was presented to congressional staff members and agriculture officials earlier this week.
“Such investment plans should be reviewed given that studies [that] point to design flaws and other implementation problems in past irrigation projects,” he added in the 46-page study submitted to the Department of Budget and Management.
The Department of Agriculture stands to get P80.7 billion in the proposed P2.268-trillion national budget for next year. “Irrigation network services” were allocated P21.1 billion while P12 billion was set aside for farm-to-market roads.
In the 2013 budget, P23.1 billion was earmarked for the National Irrigation Administration to cover more than 80 “locally funded projects.”
Former NIA chief Antonio Nangel lost his job following a public scolding from no less than the President during the celebration of agency’s 50th anniversary last June 25.
Mr. Aquino blasted Nangel, noting that NIA’s accomplishment rate for “new areas of irrigation” was only 66 percent from 2001 to 2009. He said the “yearly failures” persistent until 2012, or two years after he assumed office.
Worse, Nangel and the rest of the NIA administration were scolded over a delayed irrigation project in the President’s home province of Tarlac.
In the PIDS study, Briones noted that “expenditures on agriculture have been rising over time, as expression of the state’s commitment to reduce poverty, raise rural incomes and household welfare, and promote food security.”
“However agriculture continues to exhibit disappointing performance, namely laggard growth, lack of diversification and competitiveness, tepid productivity growth, and persistent poverty among farmers,” he said.
“There is basis for attributing this performance at least in part to faulty design and execution of agricultural programs.”
Instead of irrigation, the government was encouraged to focus on other programs such as roads and electrification, and research and development.