Sunday, July 24, 2011

SONA: expectations, impatience and reality

With President Aquino getting ready for the SONA, it appears we are learning to dial down our expectations while simultaneously expressing impatience – and recognizing reality? Perhaps the president’s credibility in his fight against corruption has earned him the benefit of the doubt?

This blog talks about the imperative of ‘focusing on the outcome’ especially in pursuing major undertakings. Indeed we can talk the talk – yet competitive advantage lies in the ability of an enterprise to separate the wheat from the chaff. The writer covered the region when our neighbors (not as well-informed as we were, he thought) were zooming and turning into Asian tigers. And he was the least surprised as investors favored them, over us – even though Thailand in fact adapted our economic development plan. We don’t need another economic development plan as we know it? Every time there is a new regime, our ‘weather-weather’ pattern is legitimized by the new power structure, and the spoils that come with it? And thus those lower in the hierarchy would rationalize [widespread inefficiency cum] corruption – i.e., the Peter Pan syndrome, of following the leader? And Juan de la Cruz has yet to recognize that inefficiency and corruption especially when endemic undermine competitiveness – i.e., productivity and economic output?

Clearly we must learn to focus on the desired outcome if we don’t want history repeating itself? With an average income that is a meager 10% those of developed economies, the idea of inclusive growth is a pipedream if we don’t raise our revenues or GDP substantially – the gut of our challenge! Yet as an underdeveloped economy, we have lots of room to grow – if we elevate our competitiveness and leverage the global economy like the Asian tigers did. Ergo: our focus must be competitiveness, not unsustainable populist initiatives! Unfortunately, as the JFC points out, our batting average, in executing the priority initiatives from Arangkada Philippines, that will drive investments and revenues, has been dismal. And it will get worse if we don’t demonstrate conviction, and are tentative instead? It’s a disservice if we simply stay the course – or if ‘Pinoy kasi’ means we can’t turn things around? And our response: “We’re the happiest people on earth?”

The writer is with a group of exporters and they’re talking of the good old days – “but today our group is much smaller: we’ve lost our competitiveness!” The good news is they recognize the downside when small entrepreneurs treat their ventures as personal, as opposed to being separate standalone, entities. And so there is passive risk-taking and thus the aversion to investing in technology, for instance. Likewise, they recognize the challenge of productivity – e.g., foreign buyers tell them how productive Chinese workers are: ‘putting a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay’. That mantra ought to be the standard – not ‘populist initiatives’ (a.k.a. misplaced compassion) that are unsustainable . . . and undermine the common good?

And so the writer challenges them to confront these barriers instead of sweeping them under the rug – e.g., like whitewashing the slum area around the airport? We have to change ‘Pinoy kasi’ to mean something positive? And he relates the first time he visited the factory of his Eastern European friends: They proudly expounded with great [national] pride that they could cobble together some locally fabricated equipment. But after the writer reviewed the margin numbers, he had to explain why “outcome” must come first before “activity”: A factory provides the largest opportunity to drive margins – and it comes from speed and flexibility. And instead of being fixated by costs, the key is to focus on driving margins – and tapping state-of-the-art technologies, for example, and pursuing the development of higher value-added products that would find a much larger market overseas. Today they’re singing a different tune: ‘We ordered and are awaiting the latest technology from Germany – because the numbers are the numbers!’

Why does the Philippines continue to rank poorly in competitiveness? Instead of focusing on the desired outcome, we focus on the activity? Instead of defining a much bigger market beyond our shores, we simply want to tap Filipinos here and abroad – and even telco businesses, supposedly technology-based, define a very limited market? We must set higher expectations, and not undersell our efforts and ourselves? At the country level, we have to focus on driving our GDP – i.e., raise our revenues ten-fold; and at the industry level, we must focus on driving competitiveness – i.e., tap state-of-the-art technologies and pursue the development of higher value-added products, that would find a much larger market beyond our shores. We need to raise ‘Pinoy ambition’ – and take the parable of the talents to heart?

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