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Leadership and a DICT

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I talked about the importance of leadership recently (Inquirer, 2/28/13) and how it determines the path of a country using the two Koreas as a dramatic example. Leadership is particularly important in a hierarchical society like the Philippines. On the larger scale, it can determine where a country goes, but it can also affect what happens in a particular sector, or a specific issue. And it can affect not only that sector or issue but a wider sphere through indirect impact.

I had a recent example of that when talking to a senior government official; he said what I wanted done couldn’t be done because the President didn’t want it. It brought to the fore something I’ve always believed is a serious flaw in Philippine culture: subservience to the boss. “The boss is always right—because he’s the boss.” Well, I totally disagree. Becoming the boss doesn’t suddenly make you an expert in everything. It just gives you the power to call in those who are experts to advise you, but they must be free to give positive and negative opinions.

I come from an egalitarian society where you can argue with anyone at any level toward the best solution. A good leader encourages dissension and disagreement, and wants unfettered argument from all sides so as to reach the best solution.

I once wrote to the president of East West Bank, Antonio Moncupa Jr., to complain of poor telephone service. Within two days he responded that they were looking into not just why I had difficulty contacting the bank, but also how to change the system so others wouldn’t experience such a problem. The Consunjis met with me when I complained of the difficulties that the construction of the Skyway was causing motorists. They welcomed the criticism, and changed. They put priority to traffic flow. Now we have a wonderful Skyway that gets me into town in 20 minutes.

These are examples of enlightened, professional, confident leadership. The leaders care about what is best, not what they personally want.

President Aquino has shown leadership with a willingness to change if the argument is strong enough and widely supported enough. But, as far as I can tell, all his close advisers are friends and loyalists who can’t or won’t break the societal tradition by contradicting his beliefs even if they don’t agree with these beliefs. So he doesn’t get all sides of an issue. There’s no critic, when there should be.

Today I’d like to argue for an issue in the hope of convincing the President to create a Department of Information Communications Technology (DICT). Almost nothing can be more important today. IT experts believe it will greatly enhance the success of their sector. Businessmen generally consider it the best way to fully grab the opportunity that this sector can provide. And both chambers of Congress agree and have passed on third reading a bill to create it. They have a two-day window early in June to ratify it but the President is against it, so they won’t—unless he changes his mind. Everyone wants it except him, and because he’s the leader in a rigid hierarchical society, his stand prevails.

I earnestly hope he will listen to all sides and change his mind. Here’s why. IT is the future of the world. It has intruded into everything we do, and is doing so at an increasingly rapid rate. It is bringing the world together in previously unimaginable ways, and changing societies. Communication is by Facebook and Twitter today; they didn’t even exist a scant six years ago. I can’t repair my car anymore; it’s all black boxes. We had friends visit with their four-year-old son. He has an iPad; he’ll never read a hardcover book in his life. His life will center around IT.

Countries that embrace this sector today will be the world’s leaders tomorrow.

Filipinos have shown their adeptness in IT work and lead in the call center arena, a very small slice of IT. Backroom operations are increasingly moving here, as are animation and software engineering.

For the past 10 years the sector has grown at nearly 40 percent annually. It employs more than 600,000 well-paid Filipinos. The sector’s importance to the economy improved significantly from a mere 1.4 percent of GDP ($1.3 billion) in 2004 to almost 5 percent ($10.9 billion) in 2011. By 2016, it is targeted to reach $25 billion, or close to 8 percent of GDP.

IT, undeniably, has been one of the most successful sectors of our economy in the past decade. Its success has lifted the image of the Philippines in the world’s eyes; other sectors will now take a look—because of IT. If the President agrees to the creation of a DICT, it won’t just lead to great improvement in the IT sector but will spill over to many other areas. As a start, it will signal a President wanting to develop business, that will give businessmen confidence to invest in other businesses. It will lead to jobs elsewhere—food catering for an increasingly growing, well-paid sector; increased retail trade for the same reason; tourism as investors see the beauty of the Philippines; manufacture of electronic and other products that the sector needs or employees want. It will improve government revenues, as more taxes are paid.

Then there’s the government. Like all other governments, it is moving rapidly into computerized services for everything it does. But it’s uncoordinated, with different systems for different agencies. Everything should be integrated into a holistic system under a well-conceived master plan. A DICT will play a crucial role in achieving that. It needs an independent, top-level, budgeted department. It needs a secretary arguing for the needs of the sector. I can see no negatives to creating a DICT. So, please, Mr. President, reconsider.


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