Damn the torpedoes
There are some lessons to be learned from this administration if the next one would like to do better. Not that this one hasn’t done quite well, but it could undeniably have been better. The slowness to spend on infrastructure is just one glaring example. The inability to create enough jobs is another (the importance of this I covered last week).
The overriding thing that comes through to me is: bureaucracy. It is just simply woeful, and designed, it seems, to thwart any effort to get things done, exacerbated by an obsession with questioning everything in court. You can’t move without court action. And if you are foolish enough to want to serve the country by assuming a leadership position in the government, be assured that someone will sue you over something.
Exaggerating? Of course, but that is how you make a point. And, in this case, it’s not too much of an exaggeration. The Philippines is a far too litigious society.
But let me go on exaggerating to make some points. As to speed, turtles and snails move faster. There is the expression: “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.” It was said by an American commander who was not scared of death and determined to win by taking his sub into deep enemy territory regardless of the consequences. We need a leader determined to win regardless of the consequences.
There is another expression I like: “Bureaucracy is a challenge to be conquered with a righteous attitude, an intolerance for stupidity, and a bulldozer when necessary.” The next president of the Philippines needs a big bulldozer, and needs to drive it him/herself. A sitting president has immunity from suit. He/She should take advantage of it—and face the court cases later. Or skip the country on July 1, 2022. But get things done.
And to get the right things done, listen to others. There’s a sign in a boss’ office I’ve seen: “Rule No. 1: The boss is always right. Rule No. 2: If you don’t agree, refer to rule No. 1.” It’s part of the Philippine culture, a part that needs change. No one is an expert at everything, and granting one leadership doesn’t imbue him/her with all knowledge. You reach the best decisions when you listen to experts, to others. You reach the best decisions when you argue over the issue with others—as equals. “Yes, sir” leads to poor decisions.
An example of this that most bothered me in the Aquino presidency is his refusal to accept what everyone—yes, everyone—has told him: Open up the economic sectors to foreigners to attract much larger levels of foreign investment, and to enable the Philippines to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (trade deal, the partnership of 12 economies toward open, accelerated growth.
Another example involves the creation of a Department of Information and Communications Technology that every expert on the subject has said is necessary in the increasingly dominant ICT-BPO (business process outsourcing) sector. But the President has not been listening to the expert advice. The fear that a government department would stifle this vibrant industry is a very genuine one given the experience in all others. But if you read the bill, it is not to regulate the industry, it is to support it. Congress has passed it, so it could go through now if the President agrees. Let us hope that in these few remaining months he does. Or, at the very least, doesn’t veto it.
I sound like a broken record on these two, don’t I? But repetition is unavoidable in the hope (the faint hope?) of getting the President to listen, and agree.
I am like the President. I don’t much care for meetings, but you have to have them, particularly when leading a country. If the President had met more often with Congress, the really quite sensible Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) would have been declared constitutional by the Supreme Court. And the government would have retained the freedom to adjust to changing conditions toward faster development.
You need meetings of free, open argument to reach the best decisions, especially if you are running a country. And in the decision-making, think long-term. Six years is the presidency, but 50 years is the timeframe. Put in place a long-term development plan for the country—one that will inevitably change as the future gives us the unexpected, but groundwork to build on.
The other lesson to learn is: Don’t appoint friends (or, worse, relatives) to senior government positions. Appoint people expert at the job and with proven management skills. And take Congress out of the process. Congress should have no say in who a president has on his/her team, only in questioning their performance, perhaps. And make political appointments for secretary and one undersecretary only. All else should be career executives.
The next president can fit into the existing system, and work smoothly with it and the economy will grow—at maybe 6 percent or so, but no better. And 6 percent or so is not enough to break the poverty trap. Radical is what’s needed, conformity is not. Eight, even 10, percent GDP growth can be achieved. But it cannot be unless there’s a revolution on how government is run (a whole subject for which there’s no room in this column).
Overall, the primary focus must be on job creation. Everything else follows from that. Or should, if, as this column emphasizes, you take action. If you damn the torpedoes and go full speed ahead. If you use a bulldozer.
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[email protected]; Read my previous columns: www.wallacebusinessforum.com.
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