Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Building the ecosystem of a nation

An ecosystem is a complex network or interconnected system. Yet it can start with “bayanihan” with individuals drawn together by a common purpose. On a much bigger scale, the success of bayanihan comes from autonomy (self-propelled and pulling one’s weight), self-mastery (a growth mindset) and a shared purpose (the antithesis of crab mentality). I am writing this as my Eastern European friends completed a couple of weeks of business reviews. Which in our case typically start with a big group meeting where a common denominator and shared purpose is arrived at – and to be geared to address challenges but with a distinct difference, by turning things on their head and thinking outside the box.

But then I should altogether drop “Eastern European”. Because I chatted with a Brit, Dutch, Spaniard, Jordanian, Lebanese beyond Bulgarians, Romanians, Ukrainians, etc. And holding the fort in New York, Montreal and Singapore were our new teams of Americans, Canadians and Asians. Twelve years ago we were building the ecosystem of a $100-million enterprise, and today we’re building the ecosystem of a Fortune 500 company. And both times the vision would appear farfetched.

In the case of PHL, are we building the ecosystem of a First-World nation? Or are we bogged down by an oligarchic economy, where the few will continue to prosper with a little help from the rest of us while Juan de la Cruz slogs as an OFW? The sad irony is he is the one propping up the economy with over $25 billion in remittances and making the elite precisely that – and then some. An economic model that is so yesterday that we lag in competitiveness: (a) the status quo is the enemy of the good; and (b) growth and development is the law of nature. What to do?

“The Aquino Administration has already awarded nine PPP projects worth a total of P133.49 billion. There are 60 other PPP projects in the pipeline with a total indicative cost of P1.226 trillion or $27.257 billion.” [PPP to withstand leadership transitions, Kris Bayos, Manila Bulletin, 7th Jun 2015]

That is a good starting point, we’re looking at $27.257 billion in PPP projects. But then the article continues: Before a new administration takes over the government next year, the Aquino Administration is pushing for the legislation of a PPP Act to institutionalize the policy, process, and reforms it has implemented. This will also pave the way for a long-term PPP agenda that can withstand transitions, and facilitate sustainable and inclusive economic growth,” the PPP Center added.”

So far so good. But will the next president be one that has been indicted for plunder? Or will it be one that was deposed, and was it because of plunder too? How will PHL have a chance against pillage if men and women of good will would look the other way? We may disagree with President Aquino’s definition of “daang matuwid” yet it was his fight against corruption that gave us our newfound credibility. But he lacks the smarts? We all do, look at where we are compared to our neighbors? Titanic doesn't discriminate!

In the meantime we like to say that we’re a rich country pretending to be poor? Is that because – thanks to 10.5 million OFWs – there is indeed much to plunder? Do we need a reality check? Our poverty and average income both say we’re in fact a Third-World country, overtaken by the rest of the region?

And how do we build the ecosystem of a First-World nation? NEDA Secretary Arsenio Balisacan put up a brave front declaring that government is not abandoning its seven to eight percent growth target. To pull it off, the economy would need to expand by at least 7.5 percent in the next three quarters.” [Cracks in the economy, and who to blame for rising power costs, Andrew James Masigan, Manila Bulletin, 7th Jun 2015]

“It is unlikely that consumer demand and government spending can support the growth we need. At some point, investments must start contributing to drive the economy . . . Government claims that foreign direct investments (FDI) are on an upswing, what with its 66 percent jump last year to $6.2 billion. However, a closer look at the breakdown reveals that only $209 million were actually invested towards new manufacturing plants. The lion’s share was attributed to inter-company debts, reinvested earning, and a foreign investor’s purchase of equity in a local bank.

“The next administration must get serious about attracting more quality investments, particularly to build up the industrial sector. The economy needs sustained growth of between six to seven percent if it is to have an impact on poverty, especially since population growth is still north of two percent.

“[I]f you compute the per capita productivity of our labor force, you will find that those involved in agriculture contribute the least at $1,255 per head. Those in services contribute $7,421 each while those in industry contribute $20,484. The latter is at par with the per capita productivity of first world nations. If we are to foster faster growth with the most bang for each member of the workforce, we must focus on developing the industrial sector.

“The power sector’s dirty little secret. High power cost is one of the three-headed monsters scaring investors away—the other two being logistic bottlenecks (insufficient infrastructure) and the restrictive economic laws of the Constitution.”
“Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima puts it quite frankly: ‘We in the government must listen.’ All of us, whether in the public or private sector, must listen and work together. People in the government cannot disregard the professional expertise and experience of those in the private sector. The same way those of us in the private sector cannot leave the government doing the job all by themselves. Reform is difficult, but it is possible. Collaboration is key.” [Ease of doing business, Mon Abrea, Manila Bulletin, 7th Jun 2015]

And where does collaboration start? “Palace black hole,” Editorial, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 8th June 2015. “EVEN SOME of President Aquino’s most influential allies and most vocal supporters are complaining about the black hole in the middle of Malacañang: important contracts have been held up, decisions have been inexplicably delayed, nominations to fill high-profile, much-talked-about vacancies in key positions have taken months to process. The controversy over the delay in the appointment of a new chief of the Philippine National Police is depressingly familiar, entirely avoidable—and very second-Aquino-administration . . . Malacañang, controlled by the black hole at its center, cannot even muster the will to simulate a sense of urgency.”

And, of course, there is Mindanao. “A lot has been written about the Mindanao peace process and the Bangsamoro Basic Law that is needed to implement the agreement that came about after years of negotiation. My engagement and that of the UK government in the Philippine quest for a settlement began seven years ago. Alongside the negotiators, politicians and opinion formers, we have pored over the details. But, while this is important, sometimes details hide fundamental and essential truths.” [Essential truths from inspiring people, Asif Ahmad, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 5th Jun 2015; Asif Ahmad is the British ambassador to the Philippines]

“One essential truth is that all previous attempts to find a solution in Muslim Mindanao and in turn deliver stability and security to the Philippines have failed. People in authority have not universally accepted the fundamental responsibility that they have to deliver peace. Instead, some have pointed to inadequacies of others, more often than not blaming the community as a whole for its predicament. Now more than ever, it is essential that inspiration replace pessimism . . . In the minutiae of the law, justice can often be overlooked. Those who benefit from the status quo mask their true intent with obfuscation. People who fear change point to problems rather than solutions. It is easy to say what they think is wrong but few have ideas as to what would make it right or better.”

Sadly, we Pinoys would rather standstill? We can’t be without the sense of urgency on top of giving a wink and a nod to plunder and pillage? They can't be what we stand for? Nation building stems from institution building where a shared purpose is a must if it is to be principle-driven. Not surprisingly, it's what makes institutions and nations competitive . . . and thrive in the 21st century world.

What about putting our minds and our hearts to building the ecosystem of PHL? We like to dream, and we can dream to become a First-World nation? And it starts with bayanihan – that is exceptionally scaled up. 

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