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The bucket list

/ 01:24 AM April 03, 2014

We’ve seen remarkable change in the past three years. And it’s been in the most important area: attitude, or how people think about themselves and their country. There’s a confidence and optimism in business that had gone underground under Gloria Arroyo and we’d lost hope. Well, hope is back.

And it shows where I think it matters, in how the world sees us. Almost every comparative measure has seen a reversal of a declining trend, to a positive one. It showed most dramatically in getting an investment-grade credit rating, something for which Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima can be justly credited. He got it by what is sadly lacking too often elsewhere: a single-minded determination to achieve. And that single-minded determination has accomplished a peace agreement, too. Let’s just hope it doesn’t somehow get derailed.

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And it’s achievement where I see the government at its weakest. I’m an action man (not, I hasten to say, of the type that sells movies); I make lists, and I do them. Last week I suggested that the government should have a bucket list, or a list of things to do before it (figuratively) kicks the bucket.

And let me start with one I’ve often argued for: a Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT). I’m at a total loss to know why the President resists this. It’s the only sector where the Philippines is already the leader in one subsector and up near the top in another. It’s the only sector that is the future; all the rest rest on their laurels of the past, and drift along just building on that past.

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As I said in my Feb. 6 column: DICT is not addition. Close down the Department of Transportation and Communications and move transport to the Department of Public Works and Highways, where it more correctly fits, and put communications into this new department as a subsector, which in this modern world it now is. The bush telegraph has been replaced, the world is computerized—and being computerized at frightening speed. Are we to be left behind? Again? Mr. President, the country’s future needs it. Let’s just do it.

Then I’d bring the Constitution into the modern world. The sectors that will be opened up won’t lead to dramatic direct investments in those sectors, but will certainly lead to some that will greatly help. More importantly, it will level the playing field. This will send a message that this is truly a free, open economy that treats everyone equally. The world will take notice.

I want a decision on where the international airport will be made by July 1, to be announced at the State of the Nation Address, and construction started by July 1, 2015, for the next Sona. No more pussyfooting, no more studies, no more arguments. It’s all been done, all been discussed, for an incredible 20 years now. Just decide, and do it. They say that on one’s death bed one doesn’t regret what one has done but what one hasn’t done. On June 30, 2016, don’t regret what you haven’t done.

I’d like to put in about here the construction of an expressway to the south along Laguna de Bay, but then I’d be sounding like a politician because my house is at the end. Nonetheless, despite my self-serving desire, it is a necessary road, as is the viaduct on which it would be built to protect Laguna against flooding. This flooding occurs annually and will get worse as the world heats up.

It’s time to override the objectors, valid though some of their points may be. Approve the 600-megawatt Subic power plant now. I’d hate to see P-Noy go out in darkness, but if we don’t have new power started now, he will.

Prioritize the freedom of information bill. Exempt Cabinet discussions, but not the outcome. Throw out the mandated right of reply. The pork barrel scam showed just how necessary it is. It’s been promised for an incredible 22 years.

Take half the buses off Edsa and impose no stopping anywhere for anyone, for any reason, except buses at bus stops that, wherever possible, are off the road.

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Also, revolutionize the tax system. Reduce income tax to 25 percent and increase value-added tax to 15 percent. Pay when you spend, not when you earn. If the system is properly structured, there’ll be no loss of revenues but an increase, while the public will pay no more. It’s harder to evade the VAT.

I know that government democracies are different, but do they have to be? If all these actions were being considered in the private sector, the decisions would be made in months, not years. They’d go out of business if they took years. I suggest that the President put this as a priority on his bucket list: Massively speed up and simplify bureaucratic decision-making. The people will love him even more.

Without going into details of why, let me list some others that, if done, can lead to a much improved Philippines, and a President leaving in glory:

• Fully computerize all government services and integrate into a holistic system (this needs the DICT to be effectively done, and will help achieve quick decision-making).

• Reduce business registration to one form, one day, one office.

• Help small and medium enterprises (SMEs) get credit at fair rates.

• Take it beyond plans and promises and start construction of all the infrastructure tourism needs.

These are all doable actions within the President’s remaining years, all things that can be done if the will to do them is there. I’ve concentrated on economic/business issues because that’s where my expertise (what there is of it) lies. I leave other issues to others; I hope they raise them. Let’s have a bucket list that gets done before it is kicked.

There’s more, but I have no more space. Let’s do it.

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TAGS: Cesar Purisima, Department of Information and Communications Technology, Department of Public Works and Highways, Department of Transportation and Communications, DICT, freedom of information bill, Gloria Arroyo, Laguna de Bay, peace agreement, Sona, State of the Nation Address
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