Monday, January 13, 2014

Owning up

“In ancient Sanskrit, the word “pundit” meant “wise man” or “religious sage.” In modern English it means “often wrong, rarely accountable.”[Ross Douthat, The confession of a columnist, The New York Times, 28th Dec 2013] This blog consistently talks about the private sector not because it is perfect but to highlight its one characteristic, that of accountability. Still wet behind the ears, my first experience with accountability was to fire a person that was recommended by a prior boss, and became a friend – and it was even in a Filipino company. And in another company, an MNC, not that long after, I was tasked to personally inform a manager (that was the age of my father) that the succession plans of the company were moving forward. And precisely why younger understudies were appointed much earlier and that the time had come for them to be promoted – and takeover from those of an earlier generation.

I didn't stay long with the MNC either, but these two early experiences made me understand a fundamental responsibility of a manager, i.e., to hire and fire. But the real challenge – in pursuit of the “common good” – is how to be proactive so that the success of an enterprise, and collectively as the private sector, makes it a positive force in an economy and nation building. And that means creating lots and lots more jobs than getting people fired.

Yet as the 21st century has played out, being proactive per se is no longer adequate especially as technology continued to accelerate at warp speed. That means beyond being proactive enterprises must be committed to investment, technology and innovation as well as to education and training and product and market development. And how nations formed their worldview proved either a blessing or a curse. For example, while on one hand the world has drastically reduced poverty, especially with the emergence of China (accounting for a big chunk of the world's population; and with their poverty down to 13.4% versus PHL at 26.5%, truly despicable given Vietnam’s 11.3% and Indonesia's 11.7%) as an economic powerhouse, on the other, many emerging markets including those in the Arab world have remained impoverished. 

Even in the EU, supposedly the largest economy as one union, and where they embarked on a deliberate effort to shore up the economies of the poorer countries (e.g., the EU infrastructure fund, among others, benefited countries like Spain and Portugal and later former Warsaw Pact nations) still, countries like Greece realized they had to clean their own house – and so did higher-income nations like Spain and Italy – because they had to pay the price. There is no free lunch! It is easy and convenient to blame others especially when they get a disproportionate share of the world's wealth – yet the Asian tigers demonstrated how to overcome underdevelopment.

There is no perfection in this world – and especially with Europe forming their versions of the “Tea Party” – and thus whether in the private or public sector, enterprises and nations have to step up, be accountable and own up? In the case of the Philippines, our oligarchic character remains the core of our political economy. And instead of methodically embarking on nation building or the pursuit of the common good, we chose to see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil? How long have we trumpeted the coming of a booming economy if not the next Asian tiger, owing to OFW remittances and more recently the BPO industry? More to the point, there was no Asian tiger with that profile! 

It took some doing before my Eastern European friends internalized that “the buck stops with them.” They struggled to understand and accept what being accountable, disciplined and proactive meant. But today, despite their commitment to continuous education, training and development, non-performers do get canned!

And just like individuals and enterprises, nations go through their own development – and become “mature adults and contributing members of the global community.” For example, a recent news report says that Indonesia is biting the bullet to be able to aggressively attract foreign investment. But we're still debating its pros and cons? Because no one is accountable – thus we pay the price as in a culture of impunity and the absence of the rule of law! And if true, it would not be surprising that even in full view of the world the rehabilitation efforts in Tacloban have not been spared of our brand of corruption and collusion? No wonder Pope Francis said, we sinners could be forgiven but not the corrupt!

Or for that matter, whether it's the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant or NAIA 3 or Mactan airport or whatever, the common good is simply not in our instinct? Isn’t it a shame that our energy or power crisis and our pitiful levels of investment have been the biggest barrier to PHL economy – and thus the widespread poverty that we claimed we care about – yet what conversation are we having?

Are we bogged down by “pa-pogi” or pulling rank – given our value system where oligarchy, political dynasty, the ivory tower of academe, if not the church, would be tops of the national agenda? Are we so “sabog” – or all over the place, if not self-centered – that we can’t move the nation forward? [It brings to mind how the Defense Secretary Robert Gates described the US Congress in his memoir: “uncivil, incompetent in fulfilling basic constitutional responsibilities,” “hypocritical, egotistical” and eager to put “self . . . before country.”]

Who is accountable – we all are? Sadly, “we don't know” what accountability means? How could Indonesia and Vietnam have less hungry people? How low are we willing to go? 

No comments:

Post a Comment