‘Arangkada, kaya pa ba?’
This week, I was at the Arangkada Philippines Forum 2019, organized annually by the Joint Foreign Chambers in the country in partnership with USAID. While I was impressed as usual with the three policy briefs released in time for the forum—on tourism, agribusiness and power—I and the few others that stayed for networking and cocktails at the end of the forum seemed to share some concerns and disappointments.
The first was the absence of secretaries of key agencies. With tourism, agribusiness and power as the key agenda items, it would have been extremely more productive if the relevant central department secretaries made time. Though I certainly would not want to speculate or be unfair to the agencies for their reasons for not pinning this year’s forum on their priority calendars, I believe it would be a good exercise for the organizers to understand what kept them away and, more importantly, what could make them come next year, convinced that their presence would matter enough.
Second was the absence of recognized captains of industry, many of whom, I know, partner with foreign companies to deliver better products and services. Methinks that if the joint foreign chambers can get the Filipino business leaders in the room, their agenda would get a further boost. I noted that some major business groups like Management Association of the Philippines and Makati Business Club (MBC) were acknowledged as partners. The executive directors of such groups could probably help bring more CEOs into the room next year if they were better engaged.
Third was the depth of the presentations and discussions. And I raise this concern more to highlight that Arangkada continues to deliver informed recommendations like the three policy briefs I mentioned earlier, and in the past often reported on progress achieved (or not achieved) through a comprehensive monitoring system that many felt was a very effective way not only to monitor but, more importantly, to encourage people to do their jobs better. The absence of the monitoring report is certainly a sorely missed feature of the forum or forums, as I am not aware when this was stopped. More sad, though, is the missed opportunity by some of the panel moderators to squeeze more out of their respective panels of experts. Asking them for a “one word” answer to a question does not enhance the dialogue in any way, for example.
To be very clear, I have great respect for American Chamber of Commerce’s president James Wilkins, executive director Ebb Hinchliffe and senior adviser John Forbes, their teams and what they do. I share the concerns because they are actually concerns about the broader state of dialogue and partnership prevailing in the country today. Public-private partnerships have dwindled and weakened. Open and informed dialogue that brings together various stakeholders seems to be getting more scarce.
How I wish that this is because we have less problems today and the needed reforms are moving quickly through decision-making processes and into effective implementation. Unfortunately, we have to admit, this slowing down in bringing people together to develop synergies is not about the Philippines finally achieving “arangkada pace” in addressing the gaps and obstacles toward inclusive growth and global competitiveness. We remain far from that reality, yet we have chosen to talk less, research less and work together less.
I have not given up hope, though, because I have been seeing groups like MBC and Foundation for Economic Freedom continuing to organize more roundtables to tackle business concerns that matter. I have read Arangkada’s three policy briefs and have noted that much work and thinking have gone into publishing each one. Each of these briefs can easily be the agenda of a multistakeholder summit. And when I say summit, I do mean summit—bringing together government secretaries and their executive teams with industry captains, institutional and academic experts as well as key leaders of civil society, so they can all agree on common and shared paths to nation-building the way successful nations like Singapore do it.
Peter Angelo V. Perfecto is public affairs director of the Phinma group and former executive director of the Makati Business Club.
Business Matters is a project of the Makati Business Club ([email protected]).
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