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Am I getting soft in the head?

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I went to a refreshing meeting the other day. Officers of the Management Association of the Philippines met with Public Works Secretary Rogelio “Babes” Singson.

We’re all sick of the endless promises made by government. All, not just this one. Well, all except Fidel V. Ramos; he got things done. Babes Singson seems to be of the same mold, and I’m not surprised. He comes from the private sector where performance is obligatory if you are to succeed—and he had succeeded.

Babes has experience in the management of toll roads and expressways, water and power utilities, privatization, airports, and seaports. As chair and president of the Bases Conversion and Development Authority, he converted Clark, Subic, and Fort Bonifacio from military use to private commercial and industrial uses as special economic and free port zones. They are now hubs of commerce and trade. He led in the conceptualization and promotion of the Subic-Clark Alliance Development project as priority national program and in securing a JBIC loan for the Subic-Clark-Tarlac expressway. He also served as president and CEO of Maynilad after its reprivatization. He has what you need to do a job properly: experience.

The President did what he should always do—choose people with the competence, expertise and experience for the job. It pays off, as the appointment of Tourism Secretary Mon Jimenez shows with the never-before-seen gains being reaped now by the tourism sector. Choosing for loyalty, friendship or political accommodation may seem unavoidable, but too often, the country pays for it. Mind you, there are exceptions; some of them do rise to the occasion and are performing well. But I’ll not name them as that will set the others against me. Readily available records (through the Internet and social media) will tell you pretty clearly who are performing, and who are not.

The Department of Public Works and Highways ranks with the Department of Transportation and Communications in importance for infrastructure. And the lack, and appalling condition, of infrastructure is one of the top 10 disadvantages of doing business, of attracting business. It’s a principal reason foreign investment is so low, and makes it difficult for companies to be globally competitive.

So Secretary Singson announcing they’ll spend 5 percent of GDP on infrastructure versus the 2-2.5 percent under GMA shows a government now determined to achieve action.

Much of that 5 percent and of the 70 percent of PPP projects falls, not under the DPWH, but under the DOTC under Secretary Jun Abaya, so he must work hand in hand with Secretary Singson. Convergence, Singson calls it—working together. That brings in Jimenez of Tourism and Butch Abad of Budget to provide the funds, something he’s doing much more efficiently than in the polarized (you had to be politically connected) past. And funds that are, it seems, being more honestly used.

The SWS’ 2012 Survey of Enterprises on Corruption, which had top executives of more than 800 firms as respondents, revealed that the DPWH, although still questionable as to its honesty in its dealings, got a net sincerity rating of -23. This is far better than in GMA’s time, when it was rated at -65. It’s heading in the right direction. Money that used to line pockets can now be used to line roads with cement.

The Philippines has 215,000 kilometers of roads, 31,000 of which are national roads. Of those 31,000, some 7,000 km are unpaved. Singson committed to pave them all by 2014. And he may well do so as from 2010 to mid-2012, nearly 550 km were paved, or close to 30 percent of the department’s target. The remaining unpaved roads are national secondary roads. Here, 1,030 km had been paved as of mid-2012, representing a fifth of the agency’s goal. The DPWH hopes to completely pave the secondary roads by 2016.

Full pavement of national roads is crucial as it will get tourists to the beaches, and products to the market, let alone ourselves to school and work.  Or it will get those tourists to the beach if there are functional airports. There the story is not so good, as I highlighted last week. Remember, last week I pointed out how it’s been 19 years since the need for a new international airport was discussed. Well, Burma (Myanmar), which only recently started to open up, has a brand-new airport that can handle some 5 million passengers in just three years. Not to make a decision, not to get started, but finished and open for business. Decisions must be made—now.

Singson has instituted what he calls a Good Governance Reform and Anticorruption Program where the goal is: right projects, right cost, right quality, right on time, right people. That’s pretty ambitious; I’ve seen some other good men defeated by a system that refuses to change. But with an honest President determined to end (or at least reduce, in practical reality) corruption, there’s a chance he’ll succeed to a fair degree. As it is, he’s already saved around P11 billion as of end-2012, through the changes he’s made. The bidding activities conducted by the DPWH are now more transparent, with nearly 50 civil society organizations accredited to monitor the bidding and implementation of public works projects.

Singson’s having led thousands of employees from various private and public organizations gives him the experience to make a good shot at it. I can’t stress too highly the need for experience. We never, in the private sector, appoint someone to a senior position without them having the requisite experience, and expertise. It’s a principal reason business succeeds. The public sector would do well to emulate this practice.

Here I am praising someone. Am I getting soft in the head?


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