Meaningful change
SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - May 8, 2016 - 10:00am

Once again we’re putting our trust in the power of the ballot today, hoping that our vote will bring a change for the better.

With all surveys giving Rodrigo Duterte a commanding lead in the presidential race, it looks like the Davao City mayor is headed for Malacañang, surging to the top as his rivals busied themselves destroying each other.

In the final days of the campaign you could smell the panic in the camps of his rivals and their moneyed supporters. In Frankfurt some of the text messages I sent to Manila bounced, but my phone was deluged with anti-Duterte text messages from the Philippines.

If the surveys prove accurate and he wins, it will once again reinforce what Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo once told us, shortly after people power II dropped the presidency into her lap: you could work all your life to become the nation’s highest official, she said, but at a certain point, it becomes a matter of destiny.

Noynoy Aquino, although GMA’s arch enemy, surely agrees, and so would his mother Corazon, whose death catapulted him to the presidency by a landslide. Joseph Estrada, a feng shui fan (didn’t do him much good), must also be a strong believer in fate.

Our presidential races can sometimes seem like they jumped out of the world of magic realism. The surreal element can mean a lot of excitement, but the consequent unpredictability and adhocracy that arise from having someone thrust belatedly into running a country such as ours can also mean a disorganized governance that lurches from one crisis to the next.

There is no reelection for our presidents so no one can ever be fully prepared for the job. Certain individuals can be more prepared than others and will spend less time on OJT. Our voters, however, have repeatedly shown openness to trying a complete newbie.

Whoever wins today, we can bet that much of the way we do business will be retained, with power and wealth merely shifting from one entrenched group to another.

* * *

We have to stop turning elections into mere rituals for changing personalities. Instead we must demand institutional reforms from those who are thrust by voters into positions that can make meaningful change possible.

Our institutions and systems, particularly election campaigns, are designed for corruption and patronage politics; any candidate who claims to be above it all is a lying hypocrite.

What must be changed is not just the person in charge, but systems and processes.

At last week’s 49th annual meeting of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) held in Frankfurt, several city mayors talked about how they implemented reforms.

Among the most interesting was Mayor Ridwan Kamil of Bandung, the third largest city in Indonesia (population 20 million). Kamil, an architect with a master’s degree in urban planning from the University of California in Berkeley, said that when he took over Bandung two and a half years ago, its biggest problems were corruption and bureaucratic rot. What did he do?

Kamil said he didn’t want to waste his time exhorting crooks to change their ways. Instead he launched an “e-democracy” program, encouraging the public to participate in governance using social media. All manual processes for dealing with the Bandung government, including payment of business fees, were simplified and became digital. All departments in the local government were required to set up a twitter account, allowing prompt response to public problems and complaints.

From being ranked 200th in terms of local governance in Indonesia, Bandung leaped to No. 1 under Kamil’s watch in the index drawn up by the national government.

These days Kamil is training his sights on infrastructure development. To speed things up, he plans to end the city’s 100 percent reliance on local funds. He will tap multilateral lenders for funding and promote private-public partnerships (PPP) initially for small projects.

Seen as a reformer, Kamil said investors have expressed concern about what would happen to Bandung once he is no longer its chief executive. So he lobbied Jakarta for a presidential order protecting PPPs. The country has set up an Infrastructure Guarantee Fund. To complement the moves, Bandung passed a law ensuring that contracts approved by the current government would be honored by the next one.

* * *

Similar concerns about reforms in the Philippines have also been expressed by investors. The next president must sustain the reforms and preserve the macroeconomic gains under P-Noy while working harder to make the benefits trickle down to the micro.

Horst Koehler, who served as German president from 2004 to 2010, told the opening event at the ADB meeting that economic growth rates do not reflect the real economy and the social well being of people.

“Jobless growth” is endangering the health of the world economy, said Koehler, former head of the International Monetary Fund and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

“Where does growth come from? What should grow? …Growth is a means, not an end,” Koehler said as he called for “inclusive and responsive governance.”

Jobless growth also afflicts the Philippines. We must create a business-friendly environment for economic activities that will generate meaningful employment so that Filipinos need not go abroad for decent work.

The skills of our workforce must be upgraded as experts predict a declining demand for voice BPOs – Filipinos’ forte.

There must be a coordinated plan to make tourism a key engine of growth. Tourism creates jobs and livelihood opportunities right at the site and helps protect the environment. The next president should initially act as the tourism czar, coordinating the effort and getting all relevant agencies on board.

Our neighbors are redesigning growth strategies. Nations are moving to deal with widening income inequality – now a key concern of development agencies alongside poverty alleviation.

At the ADB meeting, the bank’s chief economist Shang-Jin Wei pointed out that a large population and workforce are a potential source of growth, “but you need to complement that… you need to provide jobs, create an environment to invest… the potential must be matched by investment.”

Since 1966 when the ADB was organized, and since 1967 when the Philippines became one of the five founding members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, we have been left behind in many development indicators by the other members of the so-called ASEAN 5.

Our next leaders can set their sights low: ensuring that we don’t get left behind by the rest of the 10-member ASEAN. Or they can aim high: restoring us back to the top of the heap, with growth enjoyed by all.

  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?
Login is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

or sign in with