How to grade a Philippine President

Running a country is different from running a company or a household so performance appraisals are going to require a different set of tools and templates. Still, the person in such a position gets good reviews if he is able to bring substantial culture and organisational change to the organisation. He is already half way there. Strong governance framework. Highly qualified and competent cabinet secretaries. A more open and supportive approach to private enterprise. Still, there is more to do and the momentum needs to get going further. One thing I know working in government inertia is the common mindset and most of the time any changes made are often cosmetic only so the need to continuously introduce change and improvement is the way to keep it robust, alert and responsive to the needs of the community and the public at large.

 

From BusinessWorld Philippines

April 15, 2012

Grading PNoy

Activists have coined the term “Noynoying” to mean doing nothing, being indifferent, being carefree and lackadaisical, primarily because of President Noynoy Aquino’s inaction on their demands for an abolition of the VAT on oil products.

The term is unfair because doing nothing, as in literally ignoring the demand to scrap the VAT on petroleum products, is sometimes the right thing to do. Scrapping the VAT on oil products would satisfy the jeepney driver supporters of the activists, but would weaken the government financially, constrain its ability to do pro-poor investments in health and education, and benefit rich gas-guzzling car owners.

President Aquino deserves a C — more than an F, not because he isn’t doing anything (especially on populist but economically destructive measures), but because he isn’t doing enough.

On the plus side, President Aquino can be credited with the following:

• An Open Skies Policy and boosting the tourism industry. To his credit, PNoy went against some pretty powerful business magnates and finally adopted “Open Skies,” a policy liberalizing the international commercial aviation industry. This will boost tourism because tourists will be given more and better choices in flights into and out of the country. He has dared to do what his predecessors failed to do, which is to put the country’s interests above that of airline owners, who wanted to make money on restricting competition rather than on improving service.

Unfortunately, the open skies policy can’t be maximized until the government improves tourism infrastructure, solves the congestion problem in NAIA, and have the country’s category 2 rating removed.

• Appointing good, competent people in government. Public Works Secretary Babes Singson, Energy Secretary Rene Almendras, Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez Jr. are some of the many competent people, many coming from the private sector, whom President Aquino has appointed to his government. Contrast this with the police characters, corrupt officials, and cronies that former President Arroyo had in her Cabinet and strategic regulatory agencies.

• Adopting anti-corruption as the central theme of his administration. So far, President Aquino’s “daan matuwid” campaign has proven to be politically popular. Perception of a level playing field has improved and that has helped the investment climate. For example, the merger between Smart-PLDT and Digitel was approved with a Solomonic decision seen as fair (the surrender of one frequency by Smart-PLDT and the retention of the unlimited promo of Sun) and without the usual buzz about money changing hands. Contrast this with how the former Arroyo administration granted a 3G license to Roberto Ongpin’s CURE (which just flipped the license to Smart).

• Making former President Arroyo and current Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona accountable. Former president Arroyo has been prevented from leaving the country, is incarcerated (albeit in a hospital), and is facing charges before the court for electoral crimes and corruption. Meanwhile, current Chief Justice Corona has been impeached.

Both may be considered achievements of the Aquino administration. Former president Arroyo reportedly has multibillion-pesos and could have bought her way out to a comfortable exile. Chief Justice Renato Corona has powerful backers, starting with the politically powerful Iglesia ni Kristo and the legal establishment. Nonetheless, President Aquino stood his ground and the country is better off for it. In the case of the Corona impeachment, whatever the outcome, President Aquino has shown the judiciary that they are not untouchable. Moreover, the impeachment makes coups less likely and improves political stability and the investment climate.

The Aquino administration, however, has a number of shortcomings, the less than stellar economic performance being just one of them.

• Inability and unwillingness to put the government on a sustainable fiscal footing. Tax effort should increase to 17 % of GDP from the current 12.5% of GDP, if the government is to have the resources to achieve its Millennium Development Goals, but President Aquino refuses to increase taxes. There has been no attempt to rationalize fiscal incentives. However, it’s good that President Aquino has been convinced to push for the passage of the Sin Tax Reform Bill, but he himself has to loudly proclaim his support, which is needed if the congressmen and the senators are going to be made to toe the line.

Short of funds, the government has been pushing PPP or Public Private Partnerships as a solution to the country’s infrastructure problems, but so far it has been all talk and no action. Moreover, PPPs will be viable only for large, profitable projects and not for much needed farm-to-market roads.

• No economic vision. Open skies is nice. The anti-corruption theme is nice. However, these won’t be enough to put the country on a high growth path that will lift millions out of poverty. There is still no major reform aimed at industry or agriculture. The administration has trumpeted the creation of a new anti-trust office but it hasn’t done anything to dismantle the biggest government-owned monopolies: NFA and Pagcor. Growth remains consumption and not investment-driven.

• No political reform and no attempt to address the root of problems. President Aquino has been appointing good people to government positions but that’s not going to solve the institutionalized problems of corruption. He wants to clean the judiciary but probably he has to take a look at how the judges and justices are being appointed now — through an opaque and politicized process in the Judicial and Bar Council. The temptation to steal from public office is strong because it’s a fact of life that running and winning a seat costs so much more than the salary one gets, but where are the ideas to correct this?

Also, there’s no attempt to propose radical solutions that will solve these institutional problems. No ideas for strengthening the party system or loosening the hold of vested interests over political candidates. President Aquino rules out constitutional changes, even on economic provisions in the Constitution, so how will he improve competition if certain areas are closed off to foreign investments?

• The anti-corruption theme may prove to be brittle. While no major corruption scandal has erupted (save for the anomalies in the Bureau of Prisons), President Aquino must yet prove that his anti-corruption program is symmetrical and even-handed, i.e. it will be applied even to his own supporters, relatives, and friends.

Apart from the appointment of some good people, there are still no institutional checks to corruption. There are loud noises about amending the money laundering act or amending the bank secrecy law, but these have remained noises against the background of the impeachment of SC Chief Justice Corona. President Aquino seems disinclined to prioritize a Freedom of Information bill.

So far, PNoy has not been a transformative leader. Certainly, he’s not a Deng Xiaoping at least not for now. The atmospherics are nice — no more wang wangs — but the structural problems remain unaddressed. We will have modest growth for sure, but there’s as yet no miracle economy down the road. Politics seem to be more civilized, but there’s no institutional assurance that the kleptomaniacs won’t be back.

Noynoying is not about being indifferent, but not doing transformative, structural reforms.

Calixto V. Chikiamco is a board member of the Institute for Development and Econometric Analysis. For comments and inquiries, please email us at idea.introspective@gmail.com.

Article location : http://www.bworldonline.com/content.php?Section=Opinion&title=Grading PNoy&id=49950

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