Tuesday, 24 November 2009

The same old words

John Mangun
Outside the Box
Business Mirror
http://www.businessmirror.com.ph/home/opinion/18873-the-same-old-words.html

I will make this prediction about the May 2010 presidential election.

Who are you going to vote for as president?

My prediction is that 30 percent of you who just made a choice will change your minds when it is time to cast your ballot, and you will vote for someone else.

The campaign rhetoric has started and is exactly the same as it always has been. It is really unfortunate. There are some good people, contrary to what the general public opinion is, who want to lead the Philippines. But they all say the same things. There is only one campaign speech and it goes something like this: “My experience gives me the wisdom to make the right decisions. Past elected officials have had similar ideas but never implemented those ideas properly. I will not make that mistake.” That’s it. Nothing more and nothing less.

We conduct a beauty contest every six years where the contestants are asked easy and sometimes silly questions. And as long as the contestant does not say something totally strange like “My hobby is dismembering small, furry animals,” they stay in the running.

The political and economic pundits constantly ask why the Philippines has not advanced as much as it should have/could have. The answer is easy and simple. The last occupant of Malacañang who acted decisively, creatively and with aggressive action was Fidel Ramos. It was not that President Ramos did not make some unwise decisions; it was that he made decisions. Many of those decisions were courageous in the sense that they were different.

The Ramos BOT (build-operate-transfer) scheme was a partnership between the private and public sector that had never been tried before on the scale that the Ramos administration did. The solution to the electricity crisis of private power producers had great flaws accompanied with great criticism until today, but the electricity shortage was solved. The Mining Act has yet to be fully accepted and implemented to bring the wealth to the country that it could have. Yet that same Philippine Mining Act was used as a model for Peru, in Africa and in other countries in Asia, and in those nations, the benefits of exploiting minerals have reduced poverty and created national wealth.

The oil industry was deregulated under Ramos and is still subject to fierce controversy. Yet under Ramos, telecommunications was also deregulated, and without that change, the Philippines today would not be one of the wireless-communication leaders of the world. Note this: without telecoms deregulation, it is very likely that our call-center business would still be a dream. It is possible Estrada or Arroyo might have done the same thing, but the fact is, the Ramos administration did it.

This is not a testimony to Ramos except to point out that it is difficult to find a single example of bold thinking during the last 15 years.

That is not to say that there have not been some good programs. The Strong Republic Nautical Highway (SRNH) has reduced some interisland shipping costs and travel time. However, the SRNH was an upgrade of facilities rather than something new and creative.

Transportation in Metro Manila and Southern Luzon in general might be slightly more efficient today than it was 15 years ago. But again, the finishing of the C-5 highway, the completion of the two Metro Rail projects, and the rehabilitation of the South Luzon and North Luzon Expressways including the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway are not examples of thinking outside the box.

Every one of these major projects could be considered politically safe. They did not require political leadership. They did not require the President saying to the public, here is my new idea and here is why I think it is a beneficial idea.

Efren Peñaflorida, who started the “Kariton Klassroom” to bring education to poor children, has just been named CNN Hero of the Year. You should read about what Peñaflorida has done in the last 10 years, not so much for what he has accomplished but for the creativity he brought to the problem. It is a shame that the government cannot bring one-tenth the innovation to education that this one man did. The only thing the government seems to be creative about is how to add more zeros to their budget requests.

Let me quote from a candidate’s web site and see if this is someone you want as the next president. “To avoid a state of progress plateau, the country needs more innovative ideas to fuel the industry and the economy. Creating productive jobs across the country requires transparent governance, expanding the rural economy and basic infrastructure, and support to small and medium enterprises. Not following the laws are what made us lag behind other countries. It is time for something new in order for the country to become more globally competitive. The country needs to generate more ideas.”

Doesn’t that sound wonderful and full of wisdom? Just the right person for the job. Except, those are quotes from several different candidates. You see, they all sound the same.

But more important, they all talk about fresh, new, creative ideas. Yet not one offers any new, fresh, creative ideas. 

It is not that these candidates do not have “solutions.” It is that their solutions are stale. Corruption? “Punish the offenders.” Armed insurrection? “Push harder for a viable peace process.” Poverty? “We must work to uplift the lives of all Filipinos.” Those are actual quotes from the candidates.

These are not solutions, creative or otherwise. These are the same old tired words that put the Philippines where it is today.



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