Top ten (not songs) for 2008

Published by rudy Date posted on January 11, 2008

Jojo Robles had a list last week, so here’s mine to reinforce and add to it. It’s a list for the President (and Congress, if miracles can indeed happen) for 2008. Or, frankly, for anyone else who’ll listen and maybe this time do something about it. After all, we’ve all been raising these same points year after year—with nothing done to act on them. But much done to talk about them. Promises that remain just that. In many ways, it’s not the system that’s at fault, it’s the people. There are enough good laws, but they’re too rarely implemented according to the law.

We don’t need the Electric Power Industry Reform Act amended, we need the National Power Corp. privatized (which Nonoy Ibañez is beginning to do, so give him the opportunity to do it). The Mining Law doesn’t need amendment, it needs enforcement. And so on and so forth.

Anyway here’s my list:

1. Hold bi-monthly Legislative Executive Development Advisory Council (Ledac) meetings and hold politicians to the promises and timeframes agreed to—get performance. And that means quality and quantity, too many of the too few laws passed have faults in them that subsequently should (but often don’t) get changed. As everyone in business knows, success is dependent on setting goals and deadlines and achieving both. It’s a key tenet of management. Well it’s no different for a country. The successful ones get things done in the time promised.

2. Devote (as we said in our last column) the pork barrel to building and equipping schools. And doubling teachers’ salaries. There must be no more than 30 (preferably 25) in a class, one shift a day. Basketball courts and Ferraris are not schools. Although as a former racing driver, I’d happily offer to teach kids to drive in a government—provided the Ferrari or Lamborghini. I’m not fussy. I can make do with the tools I’m given.

3. Cancel with finality the Cyber-Ed project and use the funds for number 2 above. Government cannot, and I must emphasize this, cannot operate, maintain and upgrade frequently such a sophisticated system. It will never be able to hire the highly skilled people essential in this high-tech arena as just one factor as to why it would fail.

4. Computerize elections. Have a panel, equally split, of Commission on Elections (Comelec) commissioners and concerned private citizens selected by National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections and Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting to prepare the proposal and do the evaluation and awarding. Test-run the system in 2009. Related to that, appoint commissioners of known probity from a short list prepared by the above private sector group (as is being done for the head of the commission). Do not choose from outside. If the choice is outside, no matter how clean the elections might be, the perception will be that they were dirty. It will probably be the reality too. Why else would you choose outside a carefully-selected list by people of probity? Former Supreme Court Justices Jose Melo and Florentino Feliciano have both been recommended to chair Comelec by Namfrel and PPCRV. The President should choose from only these two. Any other choice must be suspect.

5. Put four big (over P5 billion evaded) tax cheats—two seen to be pro-government, the other two opposition for balance—in jail by December 2008.

6. Revise the Constitution through a constitutional convention with members selected equally from all key sectors of society. It must be headed by a businessman, not a politician. A senior businessman who knows how to chair a meeting and keep people focused, and reduce the possibility of short-term political bias.

Concentrate on opening up and simplifying the economic section. Put basic philosophy, guiding principles, overall vision, not the details that should be left to law. You don’t restrict media to 100-percent Filipino when modern technology has no media boundaries and

CNN is just as close as ANC. And a sense of nationalism isn’t an issue as media is supposed to be, and generally is in the Philippines, completely independent and independent-minded. Its role is to criticize (and to report the facts from time to time). Foreigners aren’t likely to be any more critical than Filipinos, possibly even less so.

As to land ownership, what if we ban Filipinos from owning land in America as a quid pro quo? Fair enough, isn’t it? The trouble is it becomes an emotional issue, and all sense of rationality goes out the window. See number 9 later too. Allow it for own use.

As to the political side, it’s character change, not Charter Change as the bishops so wisely said, that is needed. Parliamentary, federal with two houses might be better (I’d tend that way) but it’s less epochal than releasing the economy. Whether it’s a parliamentary or a presidential system won’t matter a damn if the people in it don’t change (I wonder if politicians realize to what a low-level of regard they’ve fallen).

7. Reactivate and fully fund family planning clinics. People have a right to be informed about and assisted in whatever choices they make. They can decide to use the information or not. But they have a constitutional right to access it to. By the way, parents can’t teach sex education. It’s too embarrassing, it’s too personal and many adults (like I’d say 80 percent of the population) don’t know how or what to teach anyway. Professional, properly trained teachers do.

8. Reduce bureaucratic procedures by a minimum of 80 percent and the time to accomplish them by a similar amount—with automatic approval if the deadline is not met. Business registration in two days with two signatures and no approvals. As long as you meet the criteria, it’s automatic. Why should you need approval to open a business as long as it is legitimate?

Let’s not think outside the box; let’s throw the box away.

9. Enact a sensible agrarian reform law that genuinely helps the small farmer (not just gives him an unviable plot of land) and recognizes the reality of agriculture—that it needs large plantations to be economically sensible for many higher value crops.

When the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program law comes up for review mid-’08, have the sense to allow both to co-exist. I’m willing to bet many marginal farmers would prefer a small plot for a house and a secure, well-paid job on a plantation instead of scrabbling to exist on 1.8 ha (the average owned under CARP) of land that can’t support him and his family.

10. Obey the 10 Commandments— fully, immediately, implicitly. Don’t expect confessions to absolve you. The priest might, but God won’t.

I’d add an 11th but I know I’d be wasting my time. That’s to bring closure to the 11 or so scandals plaguing the administration. Have them investigated by competent, independent authorities and resolved.

But we know it isn’t going to happen so my Top 10 is, I guess, it. How many do you reckon will get done? Passing grade at school is 75 percent. That seems fair enough. Let’s look at it next December.

I am, of course, sadly, wasting my time with this list. It’s the same as innumerable lists I’ve published in the past where nothing happened. Nothing will happen this time either.

That’s why the Philippines doesn’t progress like its neighbors.

And one of the reasons is people. There’s a report that the President will change some of her people this year. I hope it’s not true because her problems can’t be solved by changing people. And if she appoints people for political reasons (as is reported), I can assure her her problems will be exacerbated.

As it is, she’s lost too many good technocrats, people who actually knew what they were doing. If she replaces some of the few remaining, her standing will sink even lower. Her ability to get the right policies implemented (not just announced) will be further eroded. What, I wonder, does it take for her to realize she must dispense with politically dominated decisions. She doesn’t need to make them anymore if she is indeed going to step down quietly in 2010.

She owes nobody nothing (sic), so time to make the best decisions for the society, to choose only technocrats. If a few politicians feel left out, who cares? I can assure her after 40 years in management that properly chosen people are generally the last reason things don’t work as expected. Poorly chosen ones are often a first reason.

And you need a continuity of management. Staff are no different to investors they abhor frequent, particularly capricious change. You don’t get the best performance, you don’t get the multitude of investors when you are continuously changing the manager. Particularly when those changes aren’t because of incompetence but of politics.

We do know the difference. So stick with the good ones Mrs. President, and throw out the trash.–Peter Wallace, Manila Standard

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