Thursday, July 28, 2011

SONA – Speaking from the heart

He’s indeed the mother’s son!” One of the telling reactions to the SONA – both mother and son must have been appalled to learn how rotten public service has become? President Aquino’s focus on corruption seems to have gotten our attention – finally? A legislator though would like to see “fear” within the bureaucracy to ensure that indeed the fight against corruption sinks in?

Critics of the SONA are all over the board but it is encouraging that the need for direction – beyond favorite pet projects – is being stressed. In MNC lingo, it simply is: ‘we must walk and chew gum . . . at the same time.’ And JFC folks, mostly coming from MNCs, understandably, want clarity on the PPP, for example, the vehicle the administration has identified would drive investments. (Translation: our economy is skewed, respectful of our parochial, hierarchical structure – and we can’t remain nonchalant to this major economic barrier if indeed we want to address poverty!)

The Philippine government is not an MNC although some government managers pride themselves in the ability to adopt MNC thinking and operating mode: the MNC business environment is complex (e.g., doing business in over 200 countries/markets that aren’t homogeneous, for example) yet it defines its reason for being in simple terms. And as importantly, it is able to exercise leadership where people take ownership – thus can be trusted and relied upon to deliver results. Of course, governments are more complex yet leaders like Reagan (“It’s morning again in America”) or Clinton (“It’s the economy, stupid”) were able to operate like MNC CEOs.

Cabinet secretaries have been busy developing their respective roadmaps – and indeed they’re impressive strategy documents. For example, the platform of Philippine Agriculture 2020 is pursuing agriculture like a business, i.e., sustainable and profitably growing. And in tourism the desired outcome is to make the Philippines a ‘must-experience’. These are truly sturdy, secured anchors! The challenge is how to manage the ‘Pinoy heart’? And when we say inclusive growth (our favorite buzzword), we better not be stepping on a mine field – because it opens up compromises, thus inefficiency if not corruption? It happens even in America: the push for housing was an attempt at social engineering – i.e., inclusive, yet sub-prime mortgage was clearly unsustainable – and, regrettably, it opened the floodgates of greed to the bankers, and brought the global financial system down . . . thus the Great Recession!

Indeed we ought to focus on ‘pursuing agriculture like a business’ or “making the Philippines a ‘must-experience’? Inclusive growth may be politically correct – yet it must not be akin to assuming that land reform would magically solve poverty, for example? As a recent Manila Times editorial points out, the Taiwan model succeeded because it was business driven and thus sustainable – while ours was essentially land distribution, a giveaway to middlemen if not usurers? Is our instinct to compromise why we’re prone to inefficiency and corruption? The test for the Aquino administration is to focus on driving the execution of these roadmaps – i.e., separating the wheat from the chaff! Our neighbors have drastically reduced poverty by aggressively driving their economic output? Put another way, we’re a poor country yet we expect people not to be poor? Thus charity is a must – but it can’t be an engine of economic development. (Social engineering is no panacea – e.g., some US teachers are found cheating re ‘no-child-left-behind’.)

As Asians we know the one step back, two steps forward phenomenon? The writer had to explain it to his Eastern European friends when he urged them to unequivocally drive margins. And one of their first initiatives was to eliminate manual packaging (e.g., one step back) in the factory, and to mechanize the process; and they followed this with uprooting the offices from ‘the middle of nowhere’ to the city center and in a modern, award-winning building – to start the shift in mindset: coming from a poor ex-communist village with very low expectations, to becoming a truly honed, respected competitor to MNCs. (Translation: many ex-MNC managers have joined them!)

Fast-forward 8 years: From doing business in one small country with one dilapidated factory . . . today they’re doing business in over 20 countries and counting, with four state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities. Like an MNC, they have helped develop auxiliary and support businesses around their enterprise! Driving investments and competitiveness brings to life what economists call the multiplier effect – a meaningful terminology a.k.a. inclusive growth?

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