It’s all about jobs
I would like to suggest to the presidential contenders that their primary focus be on jobs. If it is, then everything else follows.
You need to be healthy to do a job, so the government needs to strengthen the Department of Health and expand the coverage of PhilHealth, with greater focus on primary healthcare and payments that cover serious illnesses. No one should be denied a healthy life because they can’t afford it.
You need to be educated to do a job, so the conditional cash transfer program needs to be continued, and expanded for now. The quality of education needs to be improved (books rewritten, for a start), and the number not completing the now 12 years of basic education greatly reduced. Curricula need to be oriented toward what business needs.
You need infrastructure to get to a job and for businesses to move their goods, and this administration has been woeful in this aspect. It’s done well, belatedly, on the public-private partnerships, but of its own funds, is way, way behind. Only now is any real action occurring.
The next administration must widen participation in the PPP (amending the economic provisions of the Constitution is an important step here) and remove the barriers to faster progress. It must also spend a minimum of 5 percent, preferably 7-8 percent, of GDP, of its own money, on infra.
You need a safe, crime-free environment to do a job. Corruption and bribery to get a project or an approval must be stopped if investors are to come in. Workers must not be fearful as they travel to and from work.
Related to this, in Mindanao mostly, you need a peaceful environment to do a job. The Muslim areas of Mindanao are some of the poorest in the country, because no one will invest in a business where their lives are at risk. So peaceful coexistence of Muslims and Christians is needed. The New People’s Army needs to be brought into the flock. Its ideology has been totally discredited, so time to give up.
You need simple bureaucracy to start and run a business, so jobs are provided. One or two steps, two or three days, all online, must be the goal. “Facilitation fees” must go. Annual reregistration must go; why do you need to go through the same process year after year? Only if there’s a change in the business you do should there be need to reregister.
Bureaucratic requirements should be the minimum needed, not the seeming maximum today. And all online, no people-to-people contact. Save the trees, eliminate the paperwork. Cut the corruption.
You need an open and fair economy with minimal restrictions to attract investment to provide jobs. Investors go where profits can be made with the least hassle. That the Philippines is at the bottom in Asia in attracting foreign investment says that is currently not so. Local businesses investing in real estate developments and not in factories says that is currently not so.
You need lower taxes so businesses can afford to hire more workers, and so those workers have more money to spend. Higher spending stimulates faster economic growth. Lower taxes will force the government to do a better job at collecting, and at being more efficient. The Philippines, as we all now know, imposes the highest taxes among its competitor-neighbors. You don’t get the much-needed foreign investment that way. And taxes must be easy to pay; the kilometric forms of today must go. You shouldn’t need a tax lawyer to help you fill out your tax forms.
Alternative funds are available. Here’s a list: getting the remainder of the money the Marcoses stole (P292 billion is known); increasing tax effort by 1.7 percentage points to 15.3 percent, similar to Thailand (P215 billion); collecting the total tax liability of the 581 cases filed against tax evaders and smugglers (P95 billion); estimated excise tax revenue losses due to illicit cigarette trading (P20 billion); estimated tax losses due to fuel smuggling (to be recovered through fuel marking, P40 billion); passage of the proposed Tax Incentives Management and Transparency Act and the proposed Rationalization of the Fiscal Incentives Act (P30 billion); and government assets that can be sold (P6 billion).
Total: P698 billion. The revenue losses if corporate income taxes are 25 percent, and personal income taxes are adjusted for inflation since 1997 and the rates on low-income earners greatly reduced, would be only about P37 billion. It can easily be done.
And, finally, you need to create those jobs at home, not separate families by sending parents, children or siblings overseas. Ten million Filipinos struggling to work in too often hostile environments are a sad reflection on the government. The government hasn’t provided the environment that attracts enough businesses to give all who want a decent job, a job.
During the terms of the last three presidents, there has been no real reduction in the number of poor people. And no real reduction in the number of those without jobs, or with inadequate jobs.
Nigh on two decades and we’ve gotten nowhere. So you can talk all you like about straight paths, competence and heart, courage and compassion, or competence and experience, but it means nothing if people don’t have jobs so they can lead a decent, human life. Half the Philippine population doesn’t lead a decent, human life. They need a decent, well-paying job to have that.
So focus on jobs. All else follows.
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E-mail: email@example.com. Read my previous columns: www.wallacebusinessforum.com.
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