Monday, January 30, 2012

Competitiveness efforts moving along

It is encouraging that our competitiveness efforts are moving even beyond the critical “support systems” – e.g., education and human resource development, performance governance system, business permits and licensing system, Philippine business registry, etc. Reports Business World, 19th Jan 2012: “THE NATIONAL Competitiveness Council (NCC) will unveil later this year a 20-year road map in a bid to sustain business and economic reforms to be accomplished in the medium term . . . The public-private council in the next few months will focus on establishing regional competitiveness committees and co-developing industry road maps as two of the building blocks of the long-term plan . . . [The regional competitiveness committees] should be able to monitor their performance against other non-capital regions within the ASEAN, not just within the country . . . Examples of sectors to create their own decade-long plans include agribusiness, business process outsourcing, electronics, mining, shipbuilding, metal and steel fabrication, tourism, renewable energy, automotive parts, and housing . . . Each industry road map should identify revenue, investment, and job generation targets as well as the vital policy environment and infrastructure to support such goals.”

Economic and industry development is not a cakewalk. The good news is we're taking off parochial blinders, benchmarking against our neighbors, and focusing like a laser? Yet as in any undertaking, things could fall through the cracks. “While Benigno Aquino III is aggressively pursuing the past administration for its transgressions, his economic team has fumbled with the economy. Of the agencies entrusted with economic development, three are populated from either a coterie of campaign benefactors or culled from classmates. Among the most critical letdowns is the energy portfolio . . . Following privatization in the electricity sector and deregulation in the oil industry, while the Department of Energy (DOE) has been practically reduced to one that can do little more than monitor tariffs, even on that simple charge, the department has been an abject failure.” [Why the DOE is inutile, Business Mirror, 19th Jan]

The importance of power supply reliability at competitive rates cannot be overemphasized. We can't be uncompetitive in this arena; and it is noteworthy that media is keeping us informed – e.g., following privatization, rates have gone up with three local interests controlling power supply. Unsurprisingly, our version of the free market – which in fact is crony capitalism – gives it a bad name. Corruption in its many forms indeed continues to enrage people. Influence peddling and corruption comes up every time the writer and wife meet with friends. They are so endemic that to say "syndicates" are operating both like a shadow structure within and in parallel with the government is an understatement. The rules of the game are very simple: “what's in it for me, you scratch my back and I scratch yours,” explains one. “And at an even higher level it means influencing and undermining the common good like power generation for the benefit of the few. And to add insult to injury we hold them in high esteem as pillars of industry!”

To lighten the conversation the writer shares a couple of 'pedestrian examples' one could encounter in the States: They can mess things up too like the US Postal Service, especially given its current cost-reduction regime. [Apparently with people paying their bills online, the revenue of the Postal Service has drastically dropped – payments by mail were once a major revenue generator.] For example, a property tax bill and driver-license renewal did not get to me. But in both cases, we were able to get things done in a matter of minutes. We went to the city assessor’s office and the two-step procedure was over in a flash: they print out your bill and in the next window you pay. With the driver’s license, AAA is an accredited service-provider and the three-step procedure was over in a flash: they pull out your record, you pay, your photo is taken . . . and presto, out comes the new driver's license!

Efficiency means getting things done without undue delay which is what productivity is about. And the mantra of efficiency severs the ugly head of corruption. That said the US still lags Singapore and Hong Kong in competitiveness – i.e., we better recognize the reality that against our neighbors we have our work cut out for us! But we're playing it smart; we’re not clueless – because the more backward and impoverished we are the more the spoils work in our favor, at least for the few of us? And so we predict boom times? And which is why in a democracy we get the leaders that we deserve!

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