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‘Limited,’ ‘inefficiently implemented’ gov’t response

Our finance secretary is, according to this newspaper’s headline yesterday, searching for some P75 billion to fund vaccinations for 15 million young Filipinos age 12 to 17, plus booster shots for everyone—the 70 million adults that will have been vaccinated this year, plus the young teens mentioned above. I’m not sure about the timing. When will these booster shots be given? Next year? Because we have scarcely made a dent on the adults, so shouldn’t the costs be borne by next year’s budget?

But I will take his word for it, Reader, as long as I am allowed to remind him that one of the reasons that the Philippines is now almost literally the sick man, physically and economically, of Southeast Asia, is what the International Monetary Fund described as “limited” and “inefficiently implemented” government policies meant to address the pandemic, which have left the poor, the marginalized, and the vulnerable, including micro and small businesses, gasping like fish out of water. The World Bank was more obtuse, but you get the drift.

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Let’s concentrate on the word “limited” first. That means “restricted in size, amount, or extent.” Now for the “inefficiently implemented” part. “Inefficient” means wasting or failing to make the best use of time or resources, and “implement” is to put (a decision, plan, agreement, etc.) into effect. In effect, we have been told, by objective and highly knowledgeable outsiders who have studied most countries, that this government’s decisions on the pandemic were not only insufficient, they were also put into effect inadequately. What a put-down.

Understand, Reader. This is not my assessment of the Duterte administration (in case anyone is considering charging me with sedition). But I agree with it 100 percent. And am waiting for the elections next May to register my dismay and disapproval.

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But this administration still has the opportunity to say it is sorry for its sins of omission, and try to make up for them. I still wince when I picture the WB graph showing the income losses of Filipinos through no fault of their own compared with how much they were helped by the government (a magnitude of about more than 4 to 1), or by its observation that “In… the Philippines, households whose incomes were unchanged during the crisis were almost as likely to receive assistance as those who suffered income losses”—illustrating the “limited and inefficiently implemented” description of government action. Why do you think the community pantries—nongovernment projects that the government tried to shoot down—are such a great success?

How can the government make up for its errors of omission? It can start by imposing a one-off (meaning, one-time only) wealth tax on the Filipinos who obviously benefited while everybody else was suffering. My past two columns have touched on this. From just the 17 Filipino dollar-billionaires in the Forbes list, whose wealth as of April this year amounted to P2.2 trillion, the government, assuming it imposes a 1 percent tax on wealth above P1 billion, would get over P20 billion.

That’s from only 17 individuals with wealth of roughly P50 billion and above. There are 25 million families in the Philippines. And I would guess that at the very least, the top 1/10th percent, or about 25,000 families in the country, have net worths of at least P1 billion. You think not, Reader? No problem. The government can lower the minimum taxable wealth: P500 million net worth. Or even P100 million net worth. Or even P50 million net worth.

The point is, this wealth tax will help the government raise what the country needs for relief as well as stimulus, which up to this point, according to experts, have been given to the Filipino people in limited, insufficient amounts.

Can it be done? The pandemic calls for heroic action. And the Filipino people, since May 9, have been praying collectively for servant leaders who will be concerned for the greater good and not their private benefit. Who knows? Maybe our current crop of leaders will experience a conversion.

The wastefulness, the inefficiency of government, however, is another issue altogether. But didn’t President Duterte himself said he would address this and solve it from Day 1 of his presidency? I guess it was just another of his infamous jokes.

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