Dindo Manhit, President, Stratbase ADR Institute
Before the pandemic, there were decades of sustained economic growth never before seen in our history. The outlook for long term prosperity bolstered the government’s very ambitious infrastructure programs and most certainly strengthened the political stability of the administration. However, with the outbreak of the global pandemic, economic development was stunned, impacting everybody, and like all calamitous events, the hardest hit are always the poor.
The shock was difficult for our government, which, like most countries, is handicapped by a slow and inefficient bureaucracy ill prepared for the existential threat and global disruption because of the spreading contagion of the virus from Wuhan. Fortunately, the sudden loss of livelihood and cut food supply chains that threatened to explode into a chaotic situation was avoided. Thanks to the collaboration of the country’s most successful business groups, in alliance with local governments, law enforcement, church groups, and civil society, resources and networks were quickly mobilized to give food assistance to millions of families in the most vulnerable communities of locked down Mega-Manila. These interventions are still sustained in ongoing COVID-19 testing, tracing, and treatment operations.
As the economic crisis worsened, several businesses continued to provide compensation and financial assistance to those of their workers who were direly affected by the economic impact. Many of them even advanced the yearend bonuses of their employees.
Ironically, this is the sector that has been on the receiving end of allegations, threats, intrigues, and sporadic verbal attacks from the President, who, with a very high trust rating, should have more than enough influence to transfer the same attitude to Filipinos. This became an interesting theory that had to be tested with science.
In line with the Stratbase ADR Institute’s advocacy for an all-of-society approach in fighting the global health and economic crisis, we commissioned a special survey through Pulse Asia in September which, surprisingly, contradicts the divisive rhetoric of the President.
The survey revealed that a huge 85% or more than eight out of 10 Filipinos agree that the national government should partner with private enterprises in the operation of public utilities and implementation of social service projects. The survey also showed that across geographic locations and socioeconomic classes, the very positive ratings attributed to “reputable private enterprises” respectively ranged from 79% to 93% and 79% to 91%.
As to what aspect of their lives the private sector can be of help, 90% believe that private investors can help create jobs in the country, while 68% say they can assist in expanding livelihood opportunities, and 62% say they can help in alleviating poverty.
Private enterprises in the Philippines have a strong history of performance that’s aptly reflected by the very high confidence of the survey respondents and should give the government the confidence in Private-Private Partnerships as the first option for its development programs. First, in concretizing recovery plans, the private sector should be engaged in the re-engineering and digital transformation of public services such as healthcare, transportation, power and energy, bulk water, telecommunications and the digitization of the whole government bureaucracy.
Second, it is the private sector that has the capacity to strengthen and expand the country’s digital infrastructure to support the fast growing demand because of the people’s shift to cloud based solutions that make no-contact transactions possible.
Third, with the gargantuan amount of public money to be disbursed by the government, the private sector and civil society should actively participate in ensuring the transparency and accountability in all bureaucracies. Another area where integrating digital technology can be most effective.
The government cannot be left alone to deal with the pandemic’s impact and, more so, the economic recovery of our country. Herein, the limits of the whole-of-government approach is utterly exposed.
But this could be overcome, and apparently, the data from this survey clearly shows that the people know who can create the millions of new jobs that have been lost as a consequence of the economic catastrophe. The people know who will invest in business ventures that will support multiple linkages that will then create more livelihood opportunities. The people know who has the resources, talent, and drive to pursue prosperity and thus fight poverty.
The responsibility for recovery and development is not assumed by a single actor. Instead, this responsibility is partaken by the whole-of-society. In turn, this approach becomes the broader and deeper platform wherein we can craft a realistic and inclusive recovery and development plan. The complexity of the consequences and circumstances of the pandemic profoundly pronounces this need. As the different stakeholders in society are engaged and the essence of participation galvanized, the private sector should step forward not just with resources but with its wealth of innovations and solutions.
The people will be ready to respond.
This article was originally published in BusinessWorld.