Saturday, June 29, 2013

“Tradition, tradition, tradition”

From watching lots of Western movies we learned about “The Silver Bullet”? And so it isn’t surprising if we see “daang matuwid” as the be-all and end-all? And when the ‘elite class’ is talking among themselves, instinctively, they are in incremental-thinking mode (to which I pled guilty because for many years I was in that same boat)? But it also goes beyond cutting red tape, which we must; and improving peace and order, which is a mandatory. Let’s start with power, beginning with Mindanao.

There must be a better way to deal with a crisis especially a major one that has undermined PHL economic development? While we’ve spelled out our energy needs for the next few decades, we have yet to demonstrate a forward-looking perspective, if not a vision? For example, Myanmar has disqualified PLDT in their telecoms bidding process because PLDT’s experience is confined to one country. Without saying so they’ve told us: “those coming from oligopolies need not apply”? We’ve been faced with the power crisis for years . . . and comparing our mindset with that of Myanmar makes the difference stark? If Myanmar is able to take a global perspective in the pursuit of a major infrastructure initiative that impacts economic development, why can’t we? We can’t seem to connect the dots; and so populism and transactional or retail politics (which augurs well with vote-buying?) have become our operating mode? The evidence: land reform, party list, CCT, CSR, among others; none of which has really moved the needle?

There are other basic infrastructure needs that we must address, rapidly. And countries with more PPP experience have said that there are better ways to manage PPP, for example. Granted that neither power nor infrastructure is an easy challenge but then again, if Myanmar could demonstrate “quantum-leap” thinking why can’t we? And coming down to accelerating industrial development, the JFC (Joint Foreign Chambers) have presented us with Arangkada Philippines 2010. And it is another example where being in incremental-thinking mode won’t suffice? We have to look beyond ourselves to deal with these economic development challenges given the reality that we don’t have a track record? We can’t be parochial, or worse narcissistic, with generational challenges like the ones we face. The world has left us behind – so far behind that we’re talking about Myanmar . . . no longer Thailand or Malaysia. CCT, for instance, while a must-do, is in fact a stop-gap because we need a structural solution to poverty – i.e., accelerating economic development as the once Asian tigers and China have demonstrated.

While the administration, from very early in their term, have announced all those supposed pledges from foreign investors, we ought to recognize reality: we still haven’t seen any appreciable uptick in foreign direct investment (FDI). We need more than an incremental 10% in FDI; we need ten times more, not $2.2 billon but $20 billion if we are to at least match Indonesia, for example. We have teed up several areas that we believed could be of interest to foreign investors and thus are actively doing road shows; but that is just being opportunistic, similar to a cold call. For example, we are getting more tourists yet the reality is we are way behind what our neighbors have achieved because our infrastructure system is deficient. We have to take a more tough-minded stance in looking at our reality and not sweep it under the carpet. We don’t have to get all key infrastructure projects done overnight, but we could approach them with a global perspective and send the signal to the rest of the world that we are indeed doing structural reforms. But are the big boys getting in the way because incremental thinking serves their ends – as at least two legislators have revealed?

The JFC has tried connecting the dots for us: raise GDP by over $100 billion, focus on 7 strategic industries to attract $75 billion in investments and generate millions of jobs? [To simply say we must create more jobs without any foundation is plain rhetoric? “Pa pogi”?] And if we throw in energy and an upgraded PPP (as a vehicle to step up basic infrastructure building) the rest of the world would take notice? A friend, sounding as though he was singing “Fiddler on the Roof,” could only sigh: “Tradition, tradition, tradition.” It is so overpowering that Juan de la Cruz is simply helpless?

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