Using plebiscites to strengthen PPPs. Really?!

Using plebiscites to strengthen PPPs. Really?!

HOW can a plebiscite strengthen public-private partnerships (PPPs)? Is this even possible and legal? Who will participate in this political exercise? What is the effect if a PPP law, project
or contract is confirmed through a plebiscite?

During the stakeholders’ meeting on P4 (PPP for the People) organized by the Department of the Interior and Local Government on  October 7, this columnist raised the matter of holding a plebiscite as one way to strengthen and confirm PPP policies, contracts and projects. The unspoken reaction was: “Really?!”

One of the challenges of far-reaching policies and strategies, and long-term contracts, such as PPPs and P4, is the social risk. Civil-society organizations (CSOs) and ordinary citizens may assail the validity of the PPP arrangement or question the propriety of tariff adjustments. This happens if the parties to a PPP contract—the government and the private sector—do not involve CSOs as early as project identification, in the selection process up to project implementation, including regulation and tariff setting.

Reorientation is, therefore, needed. Communities, end-users, consumers, taxpayers and CSOs must be treated as clients, principals and stakeholders. They are indispensable partners in government projects. They are, or they should be, cochampions, copromoters and codefenders of PPPs. They must cocreate, coauthor and coown PPP contracts and projects.

Aside from being cosignatories or witnesses to a PPP contract, being consulted in a public hearing for a PPP project or being voting members of the PPP-Selection Committee, we can, in a plebiscite supervised by the Commission on Elections, stamp our imprimatur. Under Republic Act 6735 (1989) and the 1991 Local Government Code, a plebiscite is an electoral process whereby registered voters participate in an initiative or referendum. Initiative is the power to propose, enact, or amend, while a referendum is to approve, amend or reject a law or ordinance.

If a PPP law or ordinance, or ordinance approving a PPP contract is confirmed in a plebiscite, there are multifarious benefits. First, the people’s vote could be seen as the ultimate buy-in. Second, protester’s risk and lawsuits may be minimized.

Third, in the case of local governments, any ordinance approved through the system of initiative and referendum shall not be repealed, modified or amended by the Sanggunian concerned within six months from the date of the approval thereof, and may be amended, modified or repealed by the Sanggunian within three years thereafter by a vote of three-fourths of all its members. Fourth, in a plebiscite, the voice of the people will be heard and recorded. Fifth, the pros and cons of a PPP law and project will be ventilated during the campaign.

But, regardless of the manner by which CSOs and ordinary citizens engage government in the PPP life cycle, the people must be part of the learning ecology. Without knowledge, there can be no meaningful constructive engagement on the part of the people.

Let us all codetermine P4.

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