Interview: Alberto C Agra

What role does reclamation play in stimulating economic and infrastructure development?

ALBERTO C AGRA: Reclamation is not an end in itself, but a transformative and goal-oriented endeavour. In the development stage of any land reclamation project, there must be a vision that highlights the ultimate goal of this type of undertaking. These projects should be aimed at lifting people’s quality of life, reducing poverty, generating jobs, and strengthening the collaboration between the government and the private sector. Working with concerned stakeholders, we create legacy islands on water for the country’s coastal defences, and sites for residential, commercial and industrial enterprises to offer stable and comfortable amenities, and advance the country’s development goals. Moving forward, reclamation projects must follow certain minimum criteria to ensure their role as community builders. For instance, they must strive to create smart cities, to include a corporate social responsibility component in the form of a hospital or school, and to establish a reliable and independent power supply system.

How are environmental impact concerns and the relocation of people being addressed?

AGRA: Reclamation projects must conform to environmental standards and aim to minimise disruption to the environment. PRA, anchored in a newly adopted vision, is committed to following environmental standards. Reclaimed land cannot be considered legacy islands without complying with sustainable methodologies. The increasing role of technology in reclamation has also had a direct impact in minimising adverse environmental effects and ensuring climate justice. In addition, the smart city model lends itself to ecologically friendly features, such as recycling systems for water, renewable energy applications and waste collection.

Relocation is a critical issue of reclamation projects, and is a collaborative arrangement where local governments can pool resources to manage relocation as part of their master plan.

Additionally, a growing trend within public-private partnerships (PPPs) is bundling to make projects more attractive for potential proponents. This bundling encourages the inclusion of commercial establishments like markets, retail components and socialised housing. For example, no private sector proponent would invest in a project composed purely of a rehabilitation or evacuation centre. However, if the facilities are coupled with a bus terminal and market, then it becomes more attractive. These additional components could also provide a venue to generate the necessary housing for displaced communities.

How can reclamation projects be accelerated and bureaucratic processes minimised?

AGRA: The appetite for PPPs and reclamation projects from domestic and international investors has been on the rise. There are several factors that drive the attractiveness of reclamation projects, namely economic growth, traffic alleviation, the need for new communities in densely populated urban areas and even defence of coastal territory. Coastal defence, now more than ever, is a core responsibility of the PRA.

A concern in the implementation of a reclamation project is getting the environmental compliance certificates, which can be a lengthy and bureaucratic process, but the PRA can provide assistance in facilitating approvals and permits for private sector proponents. Most current reclamation projects are undertaken by local government units, which award projects based on unsolicited proposals that follow the PPP template, and then they go to the PRA for clearance. The PRA requires proponents to submit detailed engineering plans and undergo processes to secure environmental requirements and necessary titles. It is in these areas that we can develop guidelines for a business model where innovation and expediency are enhanced.