The next president’s people

BIZLINKS - Rey Gamboa - The Philippine Star

We have barely a week to go before Election Day. If things run smoothly, Congress should officially declare on or before end May a new set of elected government leaders who will rule this country for the next six years.

As the new administration prepares to take the helm, we should get a firmer indication of how the numerous departments and offices under the Executive will function. Crucial will be choices on who will take the positions in finance, trade, education, agriculture, and social services, although the other positions deserve careful thinking too.

The task on hand, to say the least, will need people with integrity, resoluteness, and brilliance. Emerging from a pandemic and dealing with a shifting global order – both in economic and political parameters, will be key challenges.

This means that the next president’s people must be a team composed of individuals who will resolutely work and work hard, and submit to well laid out targets. This goes without saying that the president must have a clear expression and command of what and where he wants the nation to go.

BBB legacy

The Duterte government leaves behind many unfinished tasks, the most glaring being its infrastructure building program known as Build Build Build. Keeping up the level of spending at five percent of GDP or more will require grit and a deep well of stamina.

More than 80 projects marked as flagship are in various stages of construction, and many still require voluminous work to ensure that they proceed on schedule. A new infrastructure czar will have to navigate not just the technical side of project administration, but also the ability to work with local governments.

Mounting debt

Even more important will be the role of the next Finance Secretary who will be the de facto economic team head. The pandemic has depleted the state coffers, with diminished collections and heightened expenditures. Providing inputs that ensure tax income levels will normalize and even grow better than pre-pandemic levels will be an invaluable help to the new president.

Debt will be a major hurdle. As outgoing Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said, “The new administration would have to design policies and stick to strict fiscal discipline to grow out of this debt problem.”

Starting March 2020, when Duterte called for a lockdown in Metro Manila and other economic centers of the country, the government has borrowed P1.3 trillion to finance social amelioration interventions, millions of vaccine doses, and the growing deficit in the national budget.

The loaned amount, which will likely still increase with the economic disruptions caused by the Ukraine-Russia conflict, has brought the debt-to-GDP ratio to over the allowable 60 percent threshold considered acceptable by multilateral lenders of developing economies.

Duterte leaves the country with over P12 trillion in outstanding debt, and while much of this is under soft interest rates payable long term, some up to 40 years, it leaves the next administrations with little or no opportunities to rely on new debt for future emergencies.

Education overhaul

Improving the country’s educational system will also need a radical thinker. An overhaul is needed, and the complexities that have amassed through decades of poor management will continue to pose hurdles to meaningful change.

The quality of education in the first levels of learning has to be upgraded and made relevant to the needs of the times. Our young students must be armed with how to critically think, not just to memorize names, places, events, words, and numbers.

Technical skills schooling must serve even the working population or our blue-collared workers who dream of getting better paying jobs to improve their lot in life. Ladderized learning, which a worker can access in his spare time, must be made readily available.

Education at the tertiary level must closely fit industry needs, not just locally, but also what other countries need. The Filipinos’ dominance in the overseas job markets must continue to be strengthened, especially now that many families have experienced depletion of savings or a downgrade in the quality of living because of the pandemic.

Food insecurity

Nations, more so those belonging to the more affluent, are increasingly focusing on food security after experiencing supply chain disruptions caused by the world restarting economic activity after ending lockdowns, to battling inflation caused by aggravated grains shortages, with Ukraine now under siege.

The Philippines has at one time or another experienced shortages in rice, pork, chicken, fish, and vegetables that necessitated calls for increased importation to augment local production. Such domestic production shortfalls have triggered price hikes and heightened a sense of food insecurity.

A modern agriculture system continues to elude the country, and the current state has increasingly become less efficient in providing for Filipinos’ basic food needs and further pushed into poverty farmers, fishers, and livestock growers.

He who would take on the responsibility of agriculture chief must be able to unlock the potential resources of our rich lands, as well as expansive seas and waterways, but with a better understanding of and response to the threats of climate change.

The next president, indeed, faces a job that will test true intentions. This will reflect in the kind of people chosen to join his or her Cabinet. More importantly, it will determine where we will all end up six years from now.

Let us choose the best candidate for president who can lead us moving forward.

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We are actively using two social networking websites to reach out more often and even interact with and engage our readers, friends and colleagues in the various areas of interest that I tackle in my column. Please like us on www.facebook.com/ReyGamboa and follow us on www.twitter.com/ReyGamboa.

Should you wish to share any insights, write me at Link Edge, 25th Floor, 139 Corporate Center, Valero Street, Salcedo Village, 1227 Makati City. Or e-mail me at [email protected]. For a compilation of previous articles, visit www.BizlinksPhilippines.net.


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