Monday, December 8, 2014

We can use help . . .

Just like in the US, we seem to have developed the habit of watching the performance of the economy like a boxing match, i.e., blow-by-blow. The big difference is the US is a well-developed economy and is an established ecosystem albeit far from being the model of perfection. And so with the deceleration of the economy in the third quarter of 2014, not surprisingly, came a slew of Monday-morning quarterbacking reflected in news reports like: “Train wreck”; “Blame game backfires: Palace blasted for bungling priorities”; “Troubled road PPP back to square one”; “US gov’t backs policy formulation on electricity rates reduction”; “Go global, DTI tells SMEs”; “PH urged to establish niche in IC design”; “Japanese experts to improve PH railways,” etc., etc.

I still remember Economics 101 [in our MBA class] where we learned the rudiments of calculating GDP numbers. And it’s a feel-good sense to believe that we had a handle on something as complex as an economy. But coming from the private sector and decades later though, I would smile at the naiveté that our class demonstrated. First of all, we weren’t trained to be economists and the course was just a very small piece of the program.

In the private sector we had to learn to move across the continuum – to and fro – between the short-term and the long-term. And where nirvana is defined as attaining sustainable growth – and be a contributing member of society, and presupposes putting in place the requisite building blocks, and not be led astray to conclude that “a swallow makes a summer.” 33 years ago, the CEO of my old MNC company visited the Philippine subsidiary and it was like yesterday that I still remember how he answered a question I asked: “If you have to respond to the demand of a short-term need at the expense of the future, you will not want to do it.”

And after decades of experience, I would learn that strategic plans or road maps aren’t sufficient if an enterprise is to measure up to the yardstick of sustainable growth when two elements are missing: a sharply defined future scenario – call it a vision if you will – and the absence of the requisite ecosystem. For example, even an IBM, renowned for its best minds and the owners of the most number of patents globally, had to toss its own road map that promised increasing market value.

And this blog has raised the imperatives of: (a) visionary leadership and (b) an ecosystem. Visionary leadership doesn’t come in abundance and much less in former Soviet satellite countries, as I would note during my earlier years in Eastern Europe. “We were in the dark ages that we never imagined that there is such a thing as a bright future.” In PHL, do we need to revisit our view of the future so that we would think beyond “fire-fighting” – and not to miss the forest for the trees? And given our professed compassion do we see poverty reduction as nirvana while taking economic development for granted?

Einstein would see a Higher Being behind the model ecosystem that is the solar system. And man has learned the imperative of an ecosystem while pursuing progress and development. But he can’t claim perfection and thus despite having stepped on the moon and reached Mars and Comet 67P, among other breakthroughs, disasters would still strike similar efforts. And that’s precisely why man can’t sleep on his laurels. Perfection is not of this world. Yet it doesn’t mean man mustn’t give it his best shot, if indeed he is to tame if not rule his world, the challenge to Adam and Eve when they were driven out of Eden?

Ecosystem? Let’s start with basic infrastructure. But with ASEAN 2015 upon us, what else does it entail? “The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) is encouraging small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to expand their foothold in the global market and has lined up export promotion efforts to help them gain greater access.” [Go global, DTI tells SMEs, Voltaire Palaña, The Manila Times, 28th Nov 2014]

“This year’s export promotion efforts mainly included outbound and inbound business matching activities; participation in trade fairs in the country or abroad; a nationwide campaign to inform exporters of the opportunities in foreign markets covered by free-trade agreements (FTAs) entered into by the Philippines; and information sessions to keep exporters and potential exporters abreast on foreign market access requirements.”

And what does “to keep . . . exporters abreast on foreign market access requirements mean”? In today’s globalized and highly competitive world, it is about competition not simply access! Thus, the imperatives of investment, technology and innovation as well as people, product and market development.

Are we finally recognizing that we can use some help? How long have we had a “power crisis”? Yet, wittingly or unwittingly, we celebrate how the big boys are getting the spoils of a rather belated and fumbling efforts in infrastructure development?

“US gov’t backs policy formulation on electricity rates reduction,” says a Manila Bulletin article. The UP School of Economics just initially proffered that its research agenda will be ‘to develop institutional linkages with the US universities and institutions with expertise in the energy sector’ – to include the University of Hawaii, Tufts University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California Energy Institute.”

“Over the years though, it was observed by various stakeholders in the power industry that academic institutions in the country – including UP – have yet to learn and truly understand the intricacies of the Philippine electricity market before gaining core expertise they so badly need to credibly recommend viable policy formulations to the Philippine government. The institutional linkages and capacity enhancement though could be the much-needed stimulus to reinforce widely-perceived energy knowledge gap, especially so since EPDP has been aiming to become an ‘independent think-tank.’ ”

Are we finally getting it? And how do we demonstrate that an “independent think-tank” is truly independent? Do we need to dismantle our assumptions, beliefs and values? “Are we changing our paradigm? And the obvious riposte to that is: What is so threatening about a change in paradigm, unless one stakes one’s reputation with an obsolete model of things? And this, I fear, is the problem. Much of the resistance that advocates of a thorough overhaul of legal education comes not so much from theoretical objections, as from threatened egos and shattered self-assurances anchored on what many have quite speciously taken to be their badges of distinctiveness!” [Genuine outcomes-based education, Fr. Ranhilio Aquino, Pensées, Manila Standard Today, 24th Nov 2014]

And beyond the egos are vested interests. “Given the impoverished state of Philippine print and broadcast journalism today, there are not too many journalists I turn to for the nourishment of spirit and higher faculties . . . Which only makes more painfully obvious the pallid and insipid hogwash that is made to pass for journalism by those are best licking boots in high places rather that pontificating on issues far in excess of their less than modest intellectual endowments! Inelegant turns of phrase, non sequiturs strung together in some contemptible poor excuse for argument, bits of science artfully combined with voodoo and a generous dose of lower Philippine mythology—these are the morsels these quacks who pass themselves off for bona fide journalists regularly throw the way of their hapless viewership.” [Cheap shots (!), Fr. Ranhilio Aquino, Pensées, Manila Standard Today, 17th Nov 2014]

But are the Americans dictating on us again? And separate and apart from that, we can’t manage major project biddings – because there is always a justification to be equivocal? Is our culture of impunity a reflection of our shortcomings in character-building? And is it at the heart of our failings in nation-building? And what makes it sad is we sincerely believe it is what compassion demands?

How do we square a culture of impunity with compassion? As my late maternal grandfather would put it, “Where is the backbone of Juan de la Cruz?” Thinking back, perhaps because I was too young, he skipped the predicate: “Rizal was hanged because he wanted to enlighten us . . .” And with that the context would have been clearer? He looked up to Rizal – and was a Free Mason himself.

Indeed we can use help . . . and yet must demonstrate that we’re up to it? A horse can be brought to water but not be made to drink?

No comments:

Post a Comment