Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Of white elephants

Roxas uncovers 46 white elephants,” Manila Bulletin, 19th Oct. Our airport issues keep piling: from the downgraded airport to the worst airport to 46 white elephants across the country! Not surprising given our ‘inclusive-compassionate’ mantra – which, unfortunately, has equated to ‘crab mentality’? Instead of prioritizing and pursuing sustainable initiatives, we spread scarce resources thinly and miss their benefits altogether – a formula for sub-optimization and inefficiency, and over the decades poverty? With due respect to an economist: Brazil and Mexico’s GDP per person – at PPP of $10,800 and $13,900, respectively, versus our $3,500 – is why their poverty picture is better, not CCT per se!

While representations from the public and the private sectors worked with the JFC (Joint Foreign Chambers) to develop an industrialization road map – i.e., ‘Arangkada’ – some of us are still railing against mining, against capitalism, against globalization, against what-have-you? That’s fine so long as we don’t seek perfection (not even the prelates are perfect?) and be reduced to inaction and rendered helpless? We grew up with the Great Commandments and the Parable of the Talents and know about focusing on what matters and optimizing yields from our God-given resources?

Efficiency is what we want in tax collection. But efficiency doesn’t mean undermining a strategic industry like tourism, where we expect elevated revenues, assuming we do our homework and execute accordingly – i.e., put the right pieces and infrastructure in place? Fundamental in competitiveness is benchmarking – i.e., do our neighbors have the tax problem that we have with foreign airlines? Taxation is the job of Congress – and so we have the LEDAC, to align the initiatives of the executive and the legislative branches?

As an underdeveloped economy our primary goal is to raise our total output, and that means our GDP. Unfortunately, we don’t have the track record. Which puts us too close to the trees (tax receipts) and thus miss the forest (GDP)? Indeed we must push efficiency in driving our total output, e.g., like low-tax rate Singapore? And ‘Arangkada’ spells out the vital few industries that will deliver the biggest bang for the buck: investments of $75 billion, incremental GDP of >$100 billion and lots of jobs over a decade. Raising our GDP by such magnitude will raise our tax receipts!

Of course it will not happen tomorrow, but a third of Filipinos have been wallowing in poverty for decades! We simply have to step up to the plate! “What are the five products you want to focus on? Get rid of the rest, because they’re dragging you down,” Steve Jobs says to Larry Page, Bloomberg, 22nd Oct. “Sharpen the company’s focus . . .” Until we’re truly globally competitive engaged in daily blocking and tackling that will be Greek to us – and mired in counterproductive efforts? And until we step up to the plate and learn the ropes, poverty will stare us in the eye!

In the meantime we’re enjoying the sideshows mirroring Hollywood’s celebrity culture? E-mails a friend from Manila: “Do you want easy money? Our government financial institutions can lend money in a flash, not for development purposes – to unload their own equity holding at a spread, and proudly so; and conveniently dodge ‘luto sa sariling mantika’ – and you can turnaround (for an even wider spread like the middlemen who benefited from land reform as opposed to the farmers?) and ensure a friendly party gains controlling interest of a publicly-traded company – and where all the parties involved sit in its board?

But given our “informal” (big boys) culture Juan de la Cruz sees it as ludicrous (adding insult to injury!) that sitting in the same board should be taken (hook, line and sinker) as an arms-length scenario? Of course, legal niceties could render a different verdict – and prove once again that Juan de la Cruz is simply too smart for his own good? And explains why the world ranks us poorly in ease of doing business or attracting foreign investments? Who cares – it’s what patrimony is about, like protecting our tax code or favorite oligarchs?

We ought to invite George Clooney to turn us into a hit Hollywood movie? Pixar would be an alternative? Or Saturday Night Live? It’d be an insult if it were a zarzuela!”

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