A recent World Bank report says that more competition in the power, transportation, telecommunication can boost economic growth in the Philippines.
According to the study, “Fostering Competition in the Philippines: The Challenge of Restrictive Regulation,” the above-mentioned sectors are crucial in improving job generation and services in the country. Unfortunately, there is limited competition in these sectors.
When compared to other countries, the Philippines’ economy is more concentrated due to the higher proportion of oligopoly, duopoly, and oligopoly in the market, the report added. The author of the report and World Bank senior economist, Graciela Miralles Murciego stressed that such market structures have hampered productivity growth in the sectors: “The entry of politically connected companies limited productivity.”
The study also emphasized that restrictive regulations and restrictions such as complex regulatory procedures and barriers to trade and investments including foreign equity investments have constrained the growth of the economy. This in turns led to the high prices of services. It also cited that the limitations on foreign direct investment have stunted the development of infrastructure in the energy sector.
The World Bank is not alone in pointing out that more competition is needed in the energy sector. For example, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology released a paper, Utility of the Future by Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which concluded that “the structure of the electricity industry should be carefully re-evaluated to minimize conflict. It is critical to establish a level playing field for the competitive provision of electricity services by traditional generators, network providers, and distributed energy resources.” The report may not be talking about the Philippines directly, but it nevertheless echoes the sentiments of the World Bank.
The MIT study added that there is a need to review electricity markets especially since new technologies can be integrated into the power system. “Wholesale market design should be improved to better integrate distributed resources, reward greater flexibility, and create a level playing field for all technologies.”
I have been vocal about the needed reforms by the power sector so Filipinos can enjoy lower electricity rates. Our rules are skewed to favor the few.
Take for example the lack of competition in service areas. Currently, another power player is barred from offering its services in an area that is already being served by a distributor. This, in turn, creates a monopoly. And as our economic professor will tell us, monopolistic practices will always put consumers at a disadvantage.
It also does not help that we are not allowing more foreign investments in the power sector. As the World Bank Report stressed, limitations on foreign direct investments have curtailed the growth of energy infrastructure. This is especially true for renewable energy development.
We have to remember that renewable sources need to be explored (as in the case of geothermal) and plants have to be constructed. These undertakings require new technologies and equipment. Foreign investors can provide these two while we limit the foreign investors’ ownership on the natural resources if they are allowed to do so. This is the best way forward if we are serious in shifting to greater use of cleaner and sustainable energy sources.
Unfortunately, our 1987 constitution limits foreign participation in many industries including power. These provisions, however, are already outdated and needs to be revised. Former National Economic Development Authority chief, Cielito Habito emphasized this need aptly when he said, “The hope is we will be willing to amend economic provisions of the constitution because that is what really is holding us back. It is outdated. Many of the restrictions in foreign advertising, mass media, education, are really out of date. Given the technology in recent years, those rationales don’t apply anymore to the information age.”
Time and time again we are reminded by various experts on the many virtues of competition in various areas including the power sector. But these reminders seem to fall on deaf ears. The Philippines still has one of the highest power rates in Asia, and we all have to thank our regulators and policymakers for that.