Wednesday, July 30, 2014

“Pinoy abilidad” and firefighting

The conflicting reactions to the DAP defense by President Aquino were understandable? Does the justification for the DAP then reveal the dysfunction in government? Of course, we’re not alone: Obama and the US Congress have been unable to work together either. And it confirms that in a second term the president is a lame duck? But the US isn’t the “best practice” model for us. They are a fully developed economy while we are underdeveloped. We are playing in two different fields. We may both be dealing with poverty, for instance, but the cause and effect of the problems are different. Every time leaders proclaim success in plucking the low-hanging fruit, like the president did, one could almost hear the chest-thumping: “I am a Pinoy, with abilidad”?

The low-hanging fruit must indeed be plucked, yet it must be more than a fire-fighting effort? Beyond addressing a short-term need leadership demands much more – the pursuit of longer-term and sustainable initiatives. For example, we have yet to hear about an energy roadmap and an infrastructure master plan with the requisite timelines and also one for industrialization that includes agribusiness like the 7 winners in “Arangkada” from the JFC?

If the president can be unequivocal and say “charter change is not a priority,” shouldn’t the administration equally be unequivocal and say “we shall fix PHL’s energy problem once and for all”? To Secretary Petilla, it’s not about emergency powers; we’ve had this “emergency” for decades? It is beyond insanity? In other words, if practice makes perfect, what’s the inverse? Is it about time we cast this albatross? And instead of asking developed nations for aid, should we ask for help that is truly relevant? Putting up an energy infrastructure is beyond us – let's get real! And it’s no different from Malaysia needing the help of others to deal with their own disasters? And it holds true for many nations for that matter. And I happen to have a ringside view being a development worker in Eastern Europe the last 11 years. 

In short, it’s about time we put up (with help from others) the requisite platform for PHL as an economy and a nation by getting the basics right on a prioritized basis? In the private sector such a dysfunction is taken as murder and thus the imperative to bite the bullet – like pursuing restructuring, for example. It is the lesser evil given inaction is “criminal” – as in risking bankruptcy. It ought not to be different in the public sector given the resulting PHL underdevelopment and thus persistent and pervasive poverty – where Filipinos can't keep body and soul together – while vested interests are guaranteed the spoils of the dysfunction. “Why independence, if the slaves of today will be the tyrants of tomorrow?” We can all recite the quote in our sleep?

Satisfying populist demands makes politicians look bigger than life and which we justify and call retail politics – that all politics is local? But is that where the dysfunction begins, i.e., we’re pacified by lollipops? Which the Americans did too, but then we woke up and wondered whether we were taken for a ride? But that is why development matters – i.e., such reliance must be outgrown so that it becomes unnecessary and irrelevant? And that is not rocket science – which every adult has learned generation after generation? Afghanistan understandably talks about the Americans being a nascent democracy and free market. But are we?

It reminds me of my favorite Bulgarian taxi driver: “You know how stupid we can be? We elected the Communist Party before and we had a bank run (in 1996) with over a dozen banks going bankrupt – and a period of hyperinflation; and more recently we elected them again, and we had another bank run – with a bank going bankrupt. And so we had to get rid of them. I wish for good this time. We keep repeating history making the wrong choices, like siding and becoming allies with the wrong blocs like the Soviets. We still need adult supervision and so there is a faction of us that wants the ties to Russia and another that wants the ties to the US. In the meantime, oligarchy [made up of ex-commissars that took advantage of the transition to free market; does it sound familiar – we kicked Marcos out and on a dime we, given our acquiescence, became the looters?] remains the backbone of the economy. They control a major chunk of industry and have successfully kept foreign investments away by fortifying their hold on our monopolies. We’re like the banana republics of Latin America.”

In the case of PHL, does the dysfunction in government reveal our worldview as well as our values? But we don’t talk about it because we take them as a given – and thus would define who we are? But how do species become extinct? When they aren’t the fittest and don’t have the ability to adapt to the world? And thus says Darwin: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” And in the case of Juan de la Cruz, he grew up believing that the world was evil – and it explains our sheltered upbringing? But aren’t we then surprised that the CBCP is saying the church is a “sick institution” – a dogmatic, self-engrossed and authoritative sick institution?

Beyond our inability to prioritize – and despite our claim to the contrary – have we also undermined the ability to be critical and creative and innovative and competitive? Brainstorming, for example, is not about polite consensus; it is about disagreements and debates so that the outcome is not a compromise as we know it but the most creative thoughts from a group? In the private sector it is simply called “the ability to walk and chew gum at the same time.” And the magic comes from: “(1) The right culture to foster and support innovation; (2) Strong visionary leadership; (3) Willingness to challenge norms and take risks; (4) Ability to capture ideas throughout the organization; (5) Capacity and capability for creativity.”[Business Innovation Done Right, 26th Sept 2013]

Of course, not every enterprise gets it right: “After years of denial that surgery was needed, optimism is rising that Japan’s consumer-electronics firms are facing up to their steady loss of global market share. In 1982 we published a briefing on how “The giants in Japanese electronics” were set to keep conquering the world with all manner of exciting new gadgets: Video cameras! Fax machines! CD players! And they did, for a while. But now they all struggle to compete in the most important categories of consumer electronics against rivals such as Samsung of South Korea and especially Apple of the United States.” [Eclipsed by Apple, Electronics companies in Japan are starting to turn themselves around, but they are a shadow of their former selves, The Economist, 12th July 2014]

In other words, if we Pinoys aren't willing to undo our “sins of omission and commission” as the church seems to want to do, we ought not to expect a better life for Juan de la Cruz? Consider what the world reads about us, and no doubt potential investors read them too: “Manila toll road project stop” or “Youth vs PNoy file 2nd impeachment” or “Plunder complaint filed vs VP, Junjun, 22 others”.

In the era of meritocracy – which is what the 21st century is about or the age of innovation and competitiveness – we shall get what we deserve? Simply put, we shouldn’t be surprised why we are unable to attract foreign investment? Beyond our being governance-challenged, are we being dogmatic by embracing our brand of nationalism as in being an island unto ourselves and self-engrossed – if we are to take a cue from the bishops? And are we unable to prioritize even the most basic of infrastructure projects as in “Manila toll road project stop”? What more of strategic industries where we need visionary leadership – not populism and crab mentality that preserve and perpetuate feudalism?

Should we reflect on what the Bulgarian taxi driver sees in them, “We're like the banana republics of Latin America”? News items: “Joker slams Noy's dictatorial tendencies” . . . “No coup, says AFP chief Catapang” . . .

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