Will they be done?

December 12, 2016

LIKE IT IS by Peter Wallace
(Philippine Daily Inquirer) November 24, 2016

 

In June, President Duterte and his chosen Cabinet members met with the business community to discuss the economic plans of the new government (“340 heads are better than one,” Opinion, 6/30/16). It was very successful—or will be, if the agreements reached at the time get done. Which, given DU30’s record as “action man,” is likely.

To reinforce the agreements, a second conference was held earlier this month. This time, it included academe, NGO and legislative representatives. That was a nice idea, but it didn’t really work. We wasted the first morning on video presentations of things we in business knew well already. It would have been better had the sectors simultaneously met separately, with their respective leaders coming together, thereafter, to reach “overall conclusions” for presentation at plenary.

What I liked best about the two-day forum, though, was that it was meant to come up with a “to-do” list. I’m a great believer in to-do lists. Plans are great only inside drawers (or up in the clouds, I suppose). But a list of to-do’s in front of you is a great way to achieve real progress.

And the forum—with parallel working groups on issues like macroeconomic and fiscal policies, infrastructure and competitiveness, rural development, human capital development, and Mindanao Development—was structured to produce such lists. It was pretty obvious why the last item was included.

I was in the infra group; we came up with quite an impressive list. Let me highlight a few, and let’s see if they get done.

Develop a competitive labor policy.  This basically requires dispensing with security of tenure, and with paying or accruing all benefits from Day 1, which I’ve long, and fruitlessly argued for. (There’ll be some opposition to this, but it would be good for workers.)

Prohibit anticompetitive agreements. There’s a new council for this, let’s see if it has enough teeth.

Grant emergency powers to speed up infra construction and traffic-related projects. Transportation Secretary Arturo Tugade needs to more specifically define what’s needed, and Congress needs to act with dispatch.

Put in place a modern and efficient mass transport system now. This includes a Rapid Bus Transport System, a fast train system to Clark (and developing Clark while moving general aviation out of Naia), further development of Ro-Ro facilities, and a North-South rail. Also extend the skyway to the Manila port (as planned, I believe).

Sped up PPP projects. (This we are seeing. But in many cases, they need technical assistance and value-for-money calculations.)

Develop suburban and rural roads so as to move businesses outside of major cities, develop residential/commercial centers, and bring agriproducts to the market.

Assure modern potable water and sewage systems in urban areas.

Provide fast, extensive and affordable broadband through common infrastructure. (Boy, we do need that!)

Promote energy efficiency, and hasten construction of new power plants. Interconnect the main islands to a single grid.

Revise the procurement law to make it more workable, and allow international, competitive bidding.

Simplify and hasten registration to make doing business easier.

Review investment incentives to better attract investors, without government losing out.

The list goes on, but you get the idea. The other groups had similar lists. It became a multipage action list that can keep government departments and their leaders very busy—if they do their job. My sense is, in the main, they will.

The intention is to have forums regularly. As a must. I suggest quarterly for a while, then semi-annually once things settle down. Preferably in Manila. Much as I like Davao, going there is an expensive exercise.

Future sessions should start with a review of progress made on the to-do list, then a discussion of what is needed to get the “unticked” ones done, what to-do’s need to be added, and which should be dropped for having been proven unviable.

The forum was a welcome government initiative led by Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez. The list it produced must move from “to-do” to “done.” The “done” list is the list I really want to see.

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