Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Two sides of the same coin

We are an economic laggard for a reason? Just prior to this year's ADB meeting we geared up to impress the delegations that we have a few tricks up our sleeves that they would want to replicate. For example, our banking reforms are a model. (And in fairness, the international media picked up and highlighted positive developments like Philippine leadership in the call-center business.) But wait a minute wasn't the home of a banker recently attacked resulting in the death of those in his security detail? (And we're not the Wild West!) And just days ago the writer received an email from a relative who was devastated by a run in a Philippine bank! Then by chance he watched on CNN the CEO of the oldest Philippine conglomerate waxing poetic about how they have consistently worked in support of government agenda. But given that we are an economic laggard where is the economic mismanagement of the country coming from? (And also on CNN they had a presentation – “Real junk food in the Philippines” – explaining how restaurant trash is recycled into food in a shanty town.)

The reality is we are all contributing to this economic mismanagement when we ‘see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil.’ Or when we wash our hands and claim it is the government or the leadership or some extraneous force that is responsible. What we instead want to do is do our part? For instance, it is encouraging that the DOTC and the DOT folks are working together to make tourist attractions accessible with proper infrastructure. And the DTI is working with industries to develop their respective road maps in order to raise our competitiveness. The challenge with road maps though is their execution. For example, the Agriculture department crafted a road map that would make our fishing industry a major international player. But where are we now given recent news reports that we may have largely depleted our aquatic resources? What about our energy game plan? It is not enough to produce a plan, not even an outstanding one, because it has zero value if it is not executed!

We are playing catch up in a world that is progressing at warp speed and given we are behind even with the fundamental building blocks of an economy, we better not take things sitting down? And that means aside from execution there must be constancy in problem-solving. Beneath the "cockiness" Europeans see in Americans is the intensity and constancy in problem-solving – with the exception, of course, of Washington. [The culture shock the writer experienced upon moving to the company headquarters in New York is the problem-solving culture that was pervasive; which he has passed on to his Eastern European friends and, of course, the bias for execution.] And the net effect is seen in how they differed in dealing with the Great Recession – i.e. while neither was perfect the outcomes reveal who has gained grounds.

Execution and problem-solving are the unseen qualities behind competitiveness. For example, Singapore's competitive strength is enviable with clarity and confidence in their undertakings feeding each other, producing a virtuous circle. Of course, our own half a dozen dominant enterprises can claim the same capability – but with one exception. They are truly ratcheting up their oligarchic control on the Philippine economy – absent the imperative to raise Philippine competitiveness. Singapore, in contrast, is raising the competitiveness of their industry and the nation as a whole. And so in October they are hosting a global conference (for an industry) and a major highlight is to showcase their R&D prowess. Yet this city-state, as a republic, started from scratch only a year before the ADB was established in Manila.

It is that distinction that will confine us to economic laggards for as long as we are unable to internalize what an interconnected and a highly competitive world is about – i.e., it is tapping and optimizing the dynamic of investment and technology thus creating a culture of innovation, nurtured by a commitment to talent, product and market development. Simply, the 21st century demands the right, wider and borderless participation in the economy – not the parochial, narrow, limited and exclusive character of our cacique culture where oligarchy and poverty are two sides of the same coin. The good news is “one of the big boys,” Ambassador Manuel M. Lopez, is on a mission: “to make great strides in attracting foreign capital that can help lift the country’s economic stature,” reports Manila Bulletin, 30th April 2012.

1 comment:

  1. What can a single Juan dela Cruz do to help our economy.