UN report reaffirms water privatization amid MWSS rate hike controversy

Image from www.unwater.org
Image from www.unwater.org

First published as IBON Features

The World Water Day quietly passed by last March 22. It’s a United Nations (UN) event that has been observed since 1993 to highlight the issues facing global water resources. For this year, the World Water Day had as its focus the water-energy nexus and how the world’s poorest survive without access to safe drinking water, adequate sanitation, sufficient food and energy services. Alas, it was also an occasion used by the UN to push for the further privatization and commodification of water and energy resources.

Seriously challenged

In the Philippines, the UN’s renewed support for the corporate takeover of water and energy sectors came at a time when these policies are seriously being challenged as consumers grasp a better understanding of how oligarchic firms are squeezing them dry with impunity under privatization.

The controversial pass-on charges that private water operators Manila Water Company and Maynilad Water Services Inc. that include their corporate income tax, among others, have forced the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) Regulatory Office (RO) to reject the bid for higher water rates of the said companies. Meanwhile, the obvious price rigging at the power spot market compelled the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) to order the recalculation of the electricity rate hike that the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) is seeking.

In both cases, it was the vigilant public – through people’s organizations, consumer groups and progressive political parties – that challenged the onerous rate increases. Thus, for proponents of privatization who are grappling with legitimacy issues, the UN report could not have come at a better time.

Water report

In its 2014 World Water Development Report released on the eve of World Water Day, the UN said that 768 million people do not have access to an improved source of water, 2.5 billion do not have access to improved sanitation, while 1.3 billion are not connected to an electric power grid and 2.6 billion use solid fuel – mainly biomass – to cook. It noted energy production accounts for close to 15% of water withdrawal but could increase to 20% by 2035 due to population growth, urbanization and changing consumption patterns. The UN warned that the challenge of meeting the demand for energy might well come at the expense of water resources and thus called for coordinated water and energy management policies. (You may download the full report here.)

Such coordinated policies, according to the UN, include revising pricing practices to ensure that water and energy are sold at rates that reflect their real cost and environmental impact more accurately. Furthermore, noting that the scope of investments required to developing durable alternative infrastructures, the UN underscored that the private sector should play a major role in supplementing public expenditure.

Private participation, full cost recovery

International financial institutions (IFIs) notably the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) are long propagating this idea of private participation in infrastructure, or also called Public-Private Partnership (PPP), and the associated principle of full cost recovery. They in fact played a central role in bankrolling neoliberal structural reforms in the water and energy sectors in many countries, mostly in the poor, debt-ridden Third World.

Available data show that World Bank lending to the water sector from 2004 to 2011 is pegged at $34.79 billion, of which $22.14 or almost 64% are in the water supply and sanitation (WSS) subsector. Almost a quarter of WSS lending, meanwhile, went to Asia and the Pacific region. (See Chart below, click on image to enlarge)

World Bank lending to water

Reflecting the real cost of water and energy is of course a euphemism for more expensive water and electricity bills which often result from privatization and deregulation. Proponents of these neoliberal policies peddle the distorted notion that when the true economic cost of water and power is reflected through full cost recovery, its wasteful use will be addressed or even reversed, and would promote the efficient and equitable use of resources.

The Dublin Principle – a product of the 1992 International Conference on Water and Environment held in Dublin, Ireland – for instance, voiced the neoliberal assertion that “water has an economic value in all its competing uses and should be recognized as an economic good” and that “managing water as an economic good is an important way of achieving efficient and equitable, and of encouraging conservation”.

Full-cost recovery means that user fees paid for by consumers reflect the entire cost of investment and the guaranteed profits of private operators including differentials in factors that could affect profits such as foreign exchange, fuel prices, inflation, and in some cases even so-called regulatory risks, among others. The real intention, however, is to attract and ensure the participation in these sectors of private business, which naturally seeks profit assurances and risks protection.

PPP trends

Already, private investors have had substantial participation in developing and operating water and sanitation and energy infrastructures. Data collated by the World Bank’s Private Participation in Infrastructure (PPI) online database show that from 1990 to 2012, 111 countries reported private investments in the energy sector with a total of 2,653 projects reaching financial closure worth about $715.13 billion. Meanwhile, PPI indicators in the water sector during the same period are as follows: 63 countries; 814 projects; and $69.25 billion.

Private participation in the energy sector continues to expand both in the number of projects and cost per project. Again using the PPI database of the World Bank, the annual average of PPI investment in the energy sector has grown almost four-fold between the 1990s and the 2010s while the annual number of projects has increased almost three-fold. The average cost per energy project also grew by almost 44% during the same period.

Meanwhile, private participation in the water and sewerage sector has slowed down between the 1990s and 2010s – the annual average of PPI investment dropped by 10%; the annual average number of projects fell by 51%; and the average cost per project declined by more than 40 percent.

This may be explained by the fact that several of the biggest urban water utilities were privatized in the 1990s, particularly in the Third World, most notable of which were in Buenos Aires (Argentina) in 1993; Cancun (Mexico) and Gdansk (Poland) in 1994; Kelantan state (Malaysia) and Santa Fe province (Argentina) in 1995; Senegal, Cartagena (Colombia), and Aguascalientes (Mexico) in 1996; and Gabon, Cordoba (Argentina), La Paz–El Alto (Bolivia), Budapest (Hungary), Barranquilla (Colombia), Manila (the Philippines) and Casablanca (Morocco) in 1997.

Another reason is the widespread public opposition to water privatization sharpened by the contradiction between water as a human right and public good versus the neoliberal claim of water as an economic commodity that private firms can profit from. In recent years, there is an observable trend towards what some call remunicipalisation or the reversal of water utilities privatization such as in Paris, France; Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Hamilton, Canada; and in various municipalities in Malaysia.

However, it must be noted that water privatization has started to pick up again after the 2008 global financial and economic crises. From 2009 to 2012, private participation in water and sewerage has been growing by 28% per year in terms of investment cost. In 2012 alone, PPI investment in water and sewerage jumped by almost 54% although bulk of it was accounted for by Brazil’s three large projects worth nearly $2.5 billion – or almost 62% of the reported $4.04 billion. (See Chart, click on image to enlarge)

PPI in water and sewerage

Trumpeting “success”

Neoliberal apologists trumpet privatization as the solution to the lack of access to safe drinking water in the world, especially in poor countries, since state-run water utilities are supposedly too inefficient, bankrupt and oftentimes corrupt to perform its task. One major indicator that privatization champions point to is the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) on water where the world has supposedly achieved the target of halving the proportion of population without access to improved sources of water five years ahead of schedule. But this obscures the reality on the ground that many poor communities are still without access to reliable potable water as “improved sources” in the MDGs could refer not only to individual household connection but also to public taps or standpipes, tube well or boreholes as well as dug wells.

Take the case of the privatization of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) in Metro Manila, for example. Private concessionaires Manila Water and Maynilad claim almost universal coverage of water supply in their service areas. But parts of their claim are the bulk water connections – mostly in poor communities – where the safety and quality of water and of services are often compromised. Such bulk connections include setting up a single meter for several households, reaching a hundred in some cases. The responsibility of individually connecting to the so-called “mother meter” is up to the community (through its local association or cooperative). In some instances, rubber hoses are used to connect the households to the water supply system. In other cases, a common faucet is built from where the people fetch their water.

Challenged by people’s experience, opposition

Clearly, claims of universal coverage and continuous supply of safe drinking water are bloated to give the false impression of improved services. But what is undeniable is how water rates in Metro Manila and adjacent areas have skyrocketed under privatization effectively further marginalizing those who do not have the capacity to pay. Since MWSS was privatized in 1997, the average basic tariff has already ballooned by 585% (Maynilad) to 1,120% (Manila Water).

This as the concessionaires passed on to the consumers billions of pesos in questionable charges including their corporate income tax; cost of unimplemented projects; and cost of advertising, promotion and donations on top of passed-on charges due to inflation and foreign currency fluctuations – all while collecting profits at guaranteed rates. The process of arbitration over the rejected water rate hikes between the concessionaires and regulators being conducted by design away from public scrutiny and without consumer participation is a further reason that makes privatization oppressive and unacceptable.

The policy regime perpetrated by privatization that allowed private, profit-oriented companies to take over economically strategic and socially sensitive sectors with negligible state intervention explains why water and power rates in the country are very high – in fact, among the highest in Asia. Endorsements from institutions such as the UN to continue such policies are constantly and increasingly being challenged by the people’s experience and opposition on the ground. ###

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The role of foreign lenders, investment banks, and credit rating agencies in Philippine power sector reform

EPIRA was the result of intense pressure from NAPOCOR creditors led by the Asian Development Bank (Photo from finchannel.com)

Last June 8, the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) of 2001 or Republic Act (RA) 9136 marked its tenth year of implementation. A day before, utility giant Manila Electric Company (MERALCO) announced that it is again hiking its generation charge by 51 centavos per kilowatt-hour (kWh). The rate hike underscored how EPIRA has harmed consumers with exorbitant electricity rates, which have now become the highest in Asia. Indeed, EPIRA is considered one of the most notorious legacies of the despised Arroyo administration that was even accused of bribing Congress just to get EPIRA passed a decade ago.

But Mrs. Arroyo and her allies in the legislature are not solely to blame because EPIRA was not just a product of internal and independent policy making. Rather, it was the result of intense pressure from the creditors of the National Power Corporation (NAPOCOR) who were wary that the heavily indebted state firm will not be able to pay them back. NAPOCOR lenders, namely, the Asian Development Bank (ADB), World Bank, and the Japan Export-Import Bank (JEXIM) and Overseas Economic Cooperation Fund (OECF) withheld committed loans for NAPOCOR unless EPIRA was passed. At the same time, they promised additional lending for the privatization and deregulation of the power sector. (JEXIM and OECF merged in 1999 to form the Japan Bank for International Cooperation or JBIC.)

Credit rating agencies also put pressure on the bankrupt government to pass the EPIRA while investment banks acted as privatization consultants. These institutions represent foreign corporate interests who also pushed for the passage of EPIRA to widen their profit-making opportunities in the Philippines through the privatization and deregulation of the power industry. Therefore, these foreign banks and corporations are as accountable as the Philippine government for the mess created by EPIRA.

Pre-EPIRA intervention

In fact, the restructuring of the power industry and the role that these creditors played did not begin with Arroyo’s EPIRA in 2001. EPIRA was in reality the culmination of neoliberal power reforms long pushed by multilateral creditors. Initial efforts started in 1987 during the administration of the late President Cory Aquino with her Executive Order (EO) No. 215. This EO allowed private sector participation in the construction and operation of power plants in the country. In 1990, Congress passed RA 6957 or the BOT Law that authorized the financing, construction, operation, and maintenance of infrastructure projects by the private sector.

These policies formed part of neoliberal structural adjustment pushed by the IMF and World Bank starting in the 1980s in poor countries facing a debt crisis like the Philippines. Among the stated objectives of structural adjustment was to supposedly reduce government deficit and spending through, among others, the privatization of state assets and functions. The ADB had supported these privatization efforts in the early 1990s through loans and equity investment to independent power producers (IPPs) as well as guarantees for NAPOCOR bonds.

Compounding the fiscal woes of government was the deteriorating power situation in the early 1990s, which government responded to with more privatization. In 1993, former President Fidel Ramos was granted emergency powers to enter into negotiated contracts with IPPs for the construction of power plants through the Electric Power Crisis Act or RA 7648. Then in 1994, RA 7718 which amended RA 6957 was enacted to further promote the participation of the private sector in infrastructure development, including power generation.

However, the ADB in a 1994 study (as cited in Sharma et. al., “Electricity industry reform in the Philippines,” Energy Policy, 2004) noted that despite these efforts at privatization, the power crisis continued to worsen. It argued that there was a need for further privatization because NAPOCOR, despite ending its monopoly in generation, still retained its monopsony position. Furthermore, domestic capital was considered insufficient to meet the long-term capital requirements of the industry while legal restrictions on foreign ownership were hampering investment.

Power restructuring program

As early as 1994, the ADB, NAPOCOR, Department of Energy (DOE), and Department of Finance (DOF) had already initiated policy dialogue concerning NAPOCOR’s difficulty in funding necessary generation and transmission projects “and the need for a radical change.” By 1996, an Omnibus Power Industry Bill was filed at Congress to privatize NAPOCOR and restructure the industry. The bill did not gain ground but was later re-filed in 1998 as the ADB approved a $300-million loan to fund the Power Sector Restructuring Program (PSRP) that was co-financed by the JBIC with an additional $400 million. EPIRA was the direct product of this $700-million loan from the ADB and JBIC.

According to the ADB, the PSRP will create competitive electricity markets, restore NAPOCOR’s financial sustainability, and achieve operational improvements and increased efficiencies. The loan was meant to help finance the adjustment costs of privatization such as the take-or-pay contracts with the IPPs and excess debts upon NAPOCOR’s privatization – or what will be called as stranded debts and stranded contract costs under EPIRA. Aside from the loan, the PSRP was also accompanied by two technical assistance (TA) grants from the ADB worth $1.32 million for a study on electricity pricing and regulatory practice as well as a consumer impact assessment.

The PSRP was part of a standby arrangement in 1998 between the Philippines and ADB, World Bank, and IMF. The World Bank’s commitment to the standby arrangement was a fast disbursing loan package of $500 million while the IMF standby facility was worth $280 million. Under the standby arrangement, the Philippine government committed to implement among others further fiscal reforms, financial sector and structural reforms, and strengthening the corporate sector, which included as a critical component power sector restructuring.

Access to the PSRP was structured in a manner that ensured strict compliance to a total of 61 specific conditionalities identified by the ADB in the loan program. These conditionalities were jointly designed by the ADB, World Bank, and JBIC. The $300-million ADB loan was divided into three equal tranches with the first tranche released upon loan effectiveness and compliance to 13 conditionalities while the second tranche was targeted for release in 1999 upon compliance to an additional 8 conditionalities (including the approval of creditor banks of NAPOCOR’s restructuring and privatization plan and passage of EPIRA), while the third tranche was targeted for release in the second half of 2000 upon compliance to a further 7 conditionalities (including the promulgation of EPIRA’s implementing rules and regulations). The rest of the conditionalities were expected to be complied with during the implementation of the program.

However, the passage of EPIRA was delayed and the ADB conditionalities were not met on time. Consequently, the second and third tranches of the PSRP were withheld by the ADB until the conditionalities were implemented by the Philippine government. The second tranche was released in December 2001 and the last tranche in November 2002.

In early 1999, NAPOCOR disclosed that its creditors had warned to cut-off new loans until the privatization of the state-owned power firm was implemented. The World Bank, for instance, indicated that it will no longer support NAPOCOR until the year 2000 while the OECF had advised that no NAPOCOR project will be included in its loan packages. The ADB, meanwhile, had imposed a “very strict” condition of 8% return on rate base (RORB) – a measure of profitability – for NAPOCOR to ensure access to loans. [“No new Napocor loans (Precarious condition worries foreign lenders),” BusinessWorld, March 26, 1999] It was estimated that over $1 billion in fresh foreign loans were riding on the passage of EPIRA. [“Int’l credit groups unsure about tack on Napocor loans,” BusinessWorld, April 13, 2000]

Pro-business lobby

Aside from the foreign creditors, other imperialist institutions had also added to the pressure to privatize NAPOCOR and in some cases even pushed for specific provisions that eventually became part of EPIRA. Credit-rating agencies like Moody’s Investor Service, Inc., for example, had made the privatization of NAPOCOR a pre-requisite for a credit rating upgrade for the Philippines. [“Napocor privatization needed for Moody’s credit rating upgrade,” BusinessWorld, December 13, 1999]

US-based investment banks Credit Suisse First Boston and Arthur Andersen, meanwhile, pushed for government to retain the debts of NAPOCOR instead of passing them to generating companies to make privatization more attractive. These same investment banks advised legislators not to abrogate the onerous purchased power adjustment (PPA) because it will “damage the country’s reputation in the international financial and political arenas.” [“Transparency necessary in Napocor privatization,” BusinessWorld, August 31, 2000]

Credit Suisse, which government tapped to develop a privatization plan for NAPOCOR, also pushed for cross-ownership in generation and distribution in contrast to the then power reform bill that banned all forms of cross-ownership. [“Legislator says Napocor sale consultant exceeded mandate,” BusinessWorld, August 18, 2000] The unbundling of rates supposedly for transparency as well as the dismantling of all forms of subsidy “as rapidly as possible” because “they send incorrect pricing signals in a free market and create economic inefficiencies” were also among the specific provisions in the EPIRA pushed by the Credit Suisse group.

Foreign investors had also publicly called on government to pass the EPIRA without delay. British power firms, for example, warned government that delays in the legislation of EPIRA were turning off investors. They also openly lobbied for cross-ownership, which was one of the debated issues then at Congress. These British firms were among the hundred or so foreign companies – mostly American and Japanese – that had expressed interest in the privatization of NAPOCOR. [“British investors ask gov’t to accelerate Napocor sale,” BusinessWorld, April 5, 1999]

Bankrolling EPIRA implementation

These creditors continue to fund the restructuring of the power sector even after the passage of EPIRA. The ADB, for instance, approved in December 2002 a partial credit guarantee (PCG) of up to $500 million equivalent in Japanese yen bonds to “help meet the cash flow requirements during the initial stage of privatization.” Specifically, the PCG was used to guarantee the bond issuance of the newly created Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corporation (PSALM). EPIRA established the PSALM to oversee the privatization of NAPOCOR.

Also in December 2002, the ADB approved a $45-million loan for the establishment of the wholesale electricity spot market (WESM) and upgrading of critical transmission lines and substations, including a TA worth $0.8 million. JBIC co-financed the project with $45.5 million. It was followed by another TA from the ADB in 2004 worth more than $1 million to boost the confidence of private investors in the EPIRA by enhancing the efficiency of the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) and provide financial and technical advice to PSALM for privatization of the NAPOCOR.

So far, the largest power reform loan from the ADB after EPIRA’s enactment was the $450-million Power Sector Development Program (PSDP) approved in December 2006. In its August 2010 Completion Report, the multilateral agency said that the “ADB developed the PSDP to deal with the largest sources of the fiscal imbalance in the public sector caused by losses among the public power agencies. The PSDP was seen to reduce the losses at the (NAPOCOR) and make the (PSALM) more creditworthy, and to create the necessary conditions for the privatization of major power sector assets.”  In February 2007, JBIC provided co-financing for the PSDP worth $300 million bringing the total debt to $750 million.

PSDP’s specific objectives were (1) provide financial assistance to the government, through a program loan, to help meet part of the costs of power sector restructuring; (2) create the necessary conditions for substantial progress in privatization; (3) boost confidence in regulatory performance; and (4) smooth the transition to competitive markets. Part of the first objective is to help the national government finance the P200 billion in NAPOCOR debts that it absorbed under the EPIRA. In other words, government is servicing the debts of the state-owned corporation through additional debts.

Aside from bankrolling the implementation of EPIRA, the ADB also provided loans to private corporations involved in key privatization projects. In 2007, for example, it extended a $200-million loan to the Masinloc Power Partners Company Limited (MPPC), owned by the US-based AES Corporation, for the acquisition and rehabilitation of the Masinloc coal-fired thermal power plant. The 600-MW Masinloc plant was one of the largest privatized NAPOCOR-owned power plants. Incidentally, the ADB also provided $359 million in loans and Y12 billion in partial credit guarantee to NAPOCOR to build the Masinloc plant in the 1990s.

Meanwhile, Filipino taxpayers are not only burdened by the debts that bankrolled EPIRA. We are also oppressed by exorbitant power rates, energy insecurity, etc. that resulted from the neoliberal restructuring of the industry imposed on us by foreign institutions.

Read the “Ten years of EPIRA: What went wrong?” series

Part 1 – on electricity rates

Part 2 – on NAPOCOR debts

Part 3 – on monopolies and energy security

World Bank, bad bank: Gas tax hike proposal to hurt the poor

The World Bank, in its latest quarterly report on the Philippines, recently proposed that government increase the current excise tax of P4.35 per liter on imposed on gasoline products to ensure a quality implementation of Arroyo’s fiscal stimulus plan and address a ballooning budget gap.
According to the multilateral lending institution, its proposal would “improve the progressivity of the tax system as petroleum products are disproportionately consumed by the richer citizens”. In other words, it is acceptable to hike current taxes imposed on gasoline products because the poor will not be hurt.
The World Bank, a global institution controlled by the US and other rich countries, has become increasingly discredited and notorious through the years. For a brief discussion on how it works to intensify global poverty, as told by a former World Bank insider, watch the short video below.
With just a little over two weeks before Mrs. Gloria Arroyo deliver her supposedly farewell State of the Nation Address (SONA), I expected Malacañang to issue an outright rejection of the World Bank proposal. Severely wanting in favorable public opinion and amid persistent allegations of overpriced petroleum products, a categorical “no” from government would have been at least a positive public relations move.
But Finance secretary Margarito Teves, while acknowledging that the World Bank proposal is untimely, said that his department is seriously studying the suggestion and implied that if the World Bank can convince them, they might increase the gasoline excise tax, albeit in a proper time. Maybe after SONA?
There are two points I wish to raise here. One, petroleum products in the country are already artificially and unjustly high due to onerous taxes such as the 12% value added tax and overpricing especially by the Big Three (Petron, Shell, and Chevron) oil cartel. Further increasing gasoline prices through a higher excise tax will further aggravate the injustice and abuse that consumers already suffer.
Two, it is not true that the poor will not be hurt. It has been the recurring argument of Malacañang in its efforts to justify the continued imposition of the 12% VAT (which incidentally, Arroyo worked hard to increase from 10% to the current 12% starting in November 2005). But studies we made at Bayan point to the contrary. For instance, in the case of gasoline products, private car owners are not the only ones who will bear the impact of an excise tax hike. Tricycle drivers and small fishers using motorized bancas who also use gasoline products for their livelihood will be hurt more.
These people barely earn enough to meet the daily needs of their families and every centavo that will be added to their expenses will certainly make their daily existence much harder. At present, almost 600,000 tricycle drivers nationwide directly pay government P9.42 per liter in taxes on unleaded gasoline, representing the 12% VAT and the current excise tax of P4.35 per liter. Such taxes are already burdensome for them as they consume an average of 4 liters a day and thus pay government almost P38 daily in taxes.
Similarly, some 700,000 small fishers using motorized bancas directly pay government P9.10 per liter in taxes on regular gasoline, representing the VAT and excise tax. Per fishing trip, a fisher consumes as much as 10 liters and thus pay government almost P91 daily in taxes.
The World Bank, together with its twin the International Monetary Fund (IMF), has significantly shaped the country’s fiscal policies over the decades. It has strongly supported and pushed for more and higher taxes including the VAT to ensure that government would be able to service its debt obligations. At the same time, the World Bank has firmly opposed policy reforms to control the prices of basic goods and services such as the repeal of the Oil Deregulation Law. It has pushed for lower government spending on social services and promoted the privatization and commercialization of such services.
The people must oppose this latest policy dictate (cloaked as “proposal”) of the World Bank. The burden of addressing the budget gap and raising tax revenues should not fall on the shoulders of the poor. The 12% VAT on oil products must be scrapped and additional revenues should be generated through efficient tax collection, curbing corruption and smuggling, arresting the biggest tax evaders which are the corporations, and re-imposing the eliminated or reduced tariffs on imported goods.
World Bank logo
World Bank logo

The World Bank, in its latest quarterly report on the Philippines, recently proposed that government increase the current excise tax of P4.35 per liter imposed on gasoline products to ensure a quality implementation of Arroyo’s fiscal stimulus plan and address a ballooning budget gap.

According to the multilateral lending institution, its proposal would “improve the progressivity of the tax system as petroleum products are disproportionately consumed by the richer citizens”. In other words, it is acceptable to hike current taxes imposed on gasoline products because the poor will not be hurt.

The World Bank, a global institution controlled by the US and other rich countries, has become increasingly discredited and notorious through the years. For a brief discussion on how it works to intensify global poverty, as told by a former World Bank “insider” – its former Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz – watch the short video below.

With just a little over two weeks before Mrs. Gloria Arroyo deliver her supposedly farewell State of the Nation Address (SONA), I expected Malacañang to issue an outright rejection of the World Bank proposal. Severely wanting in favorable public opinion and amid persistent allegations of overpriced petroleum products, a categorical “no” from government would have been at least a positive public relations move.

But Finance secretary Margarito Teves, while acknowledging that the World Bank proposal is untimely, said that his department is seriously studying the suggestion and implied that if the World Bank can convince them, they might increase the gasoline excise tax, albeit in a proper time. Maybe after SONA?

There are two points I wish to raise here. One, petroleum products in the country are already artificially and unjustly high due to onerous taxes such as the 12% value added tax and overpricing especially by the Big Three (Petron, Shell, and Chevron) oil cartel. Further increasing gasoline prices through a higher excise tax will further aggravate the injustice and abuse that consumers already suffer.

Two, it is not true that the poor will not be hurt. It has been the recurring argument of Malacañang in its efforts to justify the continued imposition of the 12% VAT (which incidentally, Arroyo worked hard to increase from 10% to the current 12% starting in November 2005). But studies we made at Bayan point to the contrary. For instance, in the case of gasoline products, private car owners are not the only ones who will bear the impact of an excise tax hike. Tricycle drivers and small fishers using motorized bancas who also use gasoline products for their livelihood will be hurt more.

These people barely earn enough to meet the daily needs of their families and every centavo that will be added to their expenses will certainly make their daily existence much harder. At present, almost 600,000 tricycle drivers nationwide directly pay government P9.42 per liter in taxes on unleaded gasoline, representing the 12% VAT and the current excise tax of P4.35 per liter. Such taxes are already burdensome for them as they consume an average of 4 liters a day and thus pay government almost P38 daily in taxes.

Similarly, some 700,000 small fishers using motorized bancas directly pay government P9.10 per liter in taxes on regular gasoline, representing the VAT and excise tax. Per fishing trip, a fisher consumes as much as 10 liters and thus pay government almost P91 daily in taxes.

The World Bank, together with its twin the International Monetary Fund (IMF), has significantly shaped the country’s fiscal policies over the decades. It has strongly supported and pushed for more and higher taxes including the VAT to ensure that government would be able to service its debt obligations. At the same time, the World Bank has firmly opposed policy reforms to control the prices of basic goods and services such as the repeal of the Oil Deregulation Law. It has pushed for lower government spending on social services and promoted the privatization and commercialization of such services.

The people must oppose this latest policy dictate (cloaked as “proposal”) of the World Bank. The burden of addressing the budget gap and raising tax revenues should not fall on the shoulders of the poor. The 12% VAT on oil products must be scrapped and additional revenues should be generated through efficient tax collection, curbing corruption and smuggling, arresting the biggest tax evaders which are the corporations, and re-imposing the eliminated or reduced tariffs on imported goods.