Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Crab mentality . . . Hierarchy . . . Pork

The first 20 years of my career were spent in the Philippines (although the last 25 years I've been based overseas.) And I realized on the 18th year that we Pinoys weren't keen to prioritize – as in our failure to provide electricity that is so fundamental to life, the absence of a modern airport in the 21st century, or basic infrastructure like roads and bridges and ferry services and facilities being an archipelago, etc., etc. (And like the Washington culture, what we are keen on is the next election, and the next.) But then when we are compared to a neighbor we are defensive and pinpoint at their deficiencies – we think we are the paragon of democracy? And it explains our failure and inability to benchmark? Yet we have experts in total quality management; and fundamental in TQM is benchmarking! That was how Toyota was able to dislodge Detroit's Big 3; and it is also how Hyundai was able to become a major player in this global industry.
And so I’ve been asked, why do you talk about Bulgaria? Because the place was exactly like what we thought Soviet satellite states were like, in one word, dreadful! And so my wife's first reaction when we arrived in Sofia ten years ago as their first snowfall that year came was: "What are we doing in this godforsaken place?" It is not a Singapore that we like to visit but are defensive when it’s compared to PHL. Bulgaria suffered under communist rule for decades and was left holding the bag, that of a backward economy, but over the last ten years has shown what we Pinoys could only dream of: a modern airport, a subway system, world-class highways to their seaside, a major tourist destination for locals and foreigners alike, etc., etc. They're not perfect and so for a couple of months now, without fail at 6:30 pm, they've been holding a daily protest rally, beyond pork, against corruption and cronyism, and against a corrupted media. And my wife and I had joined them, but being foreigners our Bulgarian friends didn't think it was wise for us to become permanent fixtures in the protest. Still, these people care about their country and long before had learned self-immolation, as when they wanted to tell their former communist rulers that they couldn’t be subservient. (And we have socialist-wannabes?)
And so on that 18th year I started pondering how people could learn to prioritize. And I’d already been with my old MNC company for 5 years, done business and budget reviews countless of times; and that helped opened my eyes to the reality of ideas and plans that would inspire academic work – or why there was Plato and there was Aristotle? And so this once lazy student kept in touch with academe while picking and choosing what would work in the real world. As I've said in this blog before, I became the father of goal alignment in the MNC company, a very simple model that could hold the attention of our president and the CEO. [Disclosure: I did not adopt the Balanced Scorecard popular in business schools after test-piloting it in a subsidiary.] And whether my approach would work only with a Fortune 500 company was put to a test when I accepted a development-work assignment in Eastern Europe from an arm of USAID – to assist small enterprises compete in the EU market. The one that I thought was sincere, beyond being made up of smart young people, would prove their mettle – and would earn their place among the best in the EU.
In the meantime, we're protesting against pork? But pork doesn't happen in isolation – i.e., is it an outcome of crab mentality, for example? What about parochialism and hierarchy and oligarchy that beautifully come together, gift-wrapped and all? What about subservience? What about seeing no evil, hearing no evil, and speaking no evil? That's why there is pork?  We need a new airport, but where is the grease money? In the vernacular it's called "bulaan" – i.e., we can't simply be black or white, it is always gray? Thus transparency is foreign to us? And a classic example is our "Dutch disease." We don't talk about it yet we celebrate what we proudly call our consumption economy – principally from OFW remittances and call centers – delivered to the waiting arms of oligopoly? We don't have to be forensics to know how the dots connect – because the same pattern would explain why we've had the Mindanao power crisis and even worse why foreign investments by-pass PHL? And add to that our primitive infrastructure?
In the meantime we've taken a holier-than-thou posture because of our faith – while compartmentalizing our culture of endemic corruption, a classic case of faith without works? When we're subservient to hierarchy while indulging in crab-mentality and celebrating oligarchy aren't we helping and abetting influence peddling – and that is how the dots connect to our perfect storm of persistent underdevelopment and pervasive poverty? And so pork is only the attention-grabber but the cancer is much more extensive having metastasized and attacked every critical organ of PHL?

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