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The leadership we need

opinion / Columnists
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The leadership we need

While we have given this administration good marks for its management of our economy, it is only fair that we also speak of those things that have frustrated us. And what frustrates me most is the thought that we could have done better in improving people’s lives.

Yes, we’ve had vigorous GDP growth—the best in Asean and the second best in Asia for most of these past five years. Our fiscal affairs are healthy.  We’ve achieved investment-grade status. We’ve managed to pass vital legislation on economic reform. Revenues from business process outsourcing and remittances by overseas Filipino workers are at record levels. Numerous surveys have shown great progress in our competitiveness ranking.

Why then do so many Filipinos remain poor and jobless? Why are we the Asean laggard in attracting foreign direct investments? Why do we lack basic services that our Asean counterparts take for granted—mass transport systems that work and are affordable, adequate roads, modern air and sea ports, efficient and inexpensive Internet connections?  Of what good is it to be an investment-grade economy if the lives of our people are not getting better?

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In view of the May elections, I thought it may be interesting to frame this discussion in terms of the qualities of the leaders we should try to elect.

First, let me detail my major frustrations. On top of my list is this administration’s unsatisfactory record in attracting sufficient investments. Speaker Sonny Belmonte launched a bold initiative to update our Constitution that would have correctly transferred to Congress the authority to define restrictions on foreign participation in our economy. But he got no encouragement from Malacañang or from the economic cluster, even if the Senate expressed its readiness to cooperate and the business community was virtually unanimous in its support, realizing that this initiative would have significantly enhanced the environment for foreign investments.

What the administration’s regulators did was to review and reinterpret longstanding contracts that had resulted in improved services and gained widespread acceptance. Well, the outcome was to force model privatization successes in water into unwarranted prolonged arbitration, giving our country a black eye for inconsistency in regulations. And the reliable Japanese maintenance contractor for the MRT was replaced by incompetent, inexperienced and ill-funded entities that botched things up so badly that what used to provide adequate service has turned into a nightmare.

There’s more. We entice investors by touting the strengths of our people and work force, and offering competitive incentives. But when investors seek to avail themselves of the incentives due them, some government agencies make a game of making the availing of incentives impossibly difficult!

What’s going on? And how can we do better in the next administration?

We know we need massive investments to generate millions of jobs. What we do not seem to appreciate is that to induce investments, we need to be fair to investors. When we enter into contracts, we must honor those contracts and drop the foolish idea that profitable contracts are prima facie evidence of corruption! When we grant incentives, we must help investors avail themselves of what is legitimately theirs, instead of inventing all sorts of hurdles to deter them from doing so.

And we must open our doors to more foreign investors who will bring in not only much-needed capital but also world-class technology and business practices and managers. We need, in short, a clear-minded investment philosophy and strategy that is understood throughout the administration and embraced by all key players, who will then march in step with one another. Maybe we should even consider transforming the Department of Trade and Industry into the Department of Investments and Employment Creation.

We also need to promote genuine collaboration between the government and the private sector on one hand, and among the government agencies on the other. A good starting point is to consistently bring parties together. It is amazing how much can be accomplished simply by bringing interested parties together in a meaningful dialogue. Well-structured and regular meetings of the Cabinet and the Ledac (Legislative Executive Development Advisory Council), as well as meetings of government leaders with the private sector, should be encouraged as they provide a natural venue for coordination and updates, even if they may sometimes seem to be a tedious waste of time.

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Too, we need to confront hurdles to progress. If, for example, the Commission on Audit, well-meaning and trustworthy though it may be, is deemed to have gone overboard and become a deterrent to the implementation of key projects, a reasonable solution must be found. I do not think our Constitution intended for the fate of our economy to be determined by auditors.

We need leaders who can inspire our people to rally to a common vision, to confidently aspire for better lives. We need leaders who are unifiers, who can bring sectors of our society together by focusing on those things that unite us rather than on issues that divide us. We need leaders who can rise above political-party or school affiliations. We need leaders who can make our economic progress truly inclusive. We need leaders who can get things done.

Beyond continuity, what we need is unity and collaboration toward a common purpose.

Ramon R. del Rosario Jr. (rrdelrosario@gmail.com) chairs the Makati Business Club.

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TAGS: economy, GDP, Growth, investments
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