Public-private fusion for inclusive prosperity

Dindo Manhit, President, Stratbase ADR Institute

The Philippines, like all governments of the world, was ill-prepared to deal with the tragic human and deep economic consequences of the pandemic crisis. But the Philippines had one rewarding asset as a nation: a cohesive private sector quick to proactively mobilize its resources for the common good in times of dire need.

Last March 1, the Philippines downgraded to alert level 1, which opened the economy to fewer restrictions even as the country’s neighbors reported surges in new COVID-19 cases. The reason, however, does not point to the country’s commendable performance in pandemic management. Rather, it’s a case of a country that started off scrambling when the pandemic struck two years ago but eventually finding its way because the private sector teamed up with the government during the severe lockdowns in distributing food and medical supplies, providing mass testing and quarantine facilities, ramping up vaccination drives, and literally making available everything needed to help the most vulnerable sectors get by. But the most encouraging developments were felt on the ground, with private citizens starting their respective community pantries to help out.

A survey conducted by the Social Weather Stations in October 2021 found that 82 percent or majority of Filipinos believe that the Philippine economy’s growth will be accelerated if the government collaborates more actively with the private sector.

As the country undergoes another political transition, we at the Stratbase ADR Institute recently launched a series of policy papers titled “Beyond the Crisis: A Strategic Agenda for the Next President.” These studies highlight the critical issues that the next set of leaders must address, and provide strategic recommendations to realize sustained recovery.

Former Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas deputy governor Diwa Guinigundo, in his policy paper titled “Philippines: Pursuing an Investment-Led, More Sustainable Economic Growth,” emphasized that investment is key toward a resilient strategy to drive economic growth. It fills in the health system gaps and helps mitigate the resultant economic scars. He noted further that attracting investments implies the need for heightened collaboration between the public and private sectors as well as an enabling policy environment.

Meanwhile, Dr. Vicente Paqueo, distinguished visiting fellow of the Philippine Institute for Development Studies, noted in his study, “Issues for the Next Administration’s Development Agenda on Human Capital and Labor Markets,” that a new strategy is needed for labor productivity by improving workers’ skills and competencies. He also called for the need to operationalize the public-private education complementarity mandate through a social contract.

Another survey conducted by Pulse Asia Research in December 2021 revealed that the issues candidates for national positions should focus on are: controlling the prices of basic services and commodities (45 percent); providing jobs (44 percent); eradicating graft and corruption in government (36 percent); increasing the wages of workers (34 percent); and reducing poverty (32 percent).

Indeed, the government still needs help from the private sector in ramping up economic activity in the form of increased domestic investments and job creation. But then again, good governance remains the principal basis for attracting prospective investors who prefer a predictable and enabling regulatory environment.

The next administration should focus on areas such as expansion of investment opportunities to address the perennial lack of jobs, widespread poverty, and inequality, and accelerate systemic digital transformation to empower people to thrive in a global digital economy.

We need new leadership that can fuse the public and private sector into a focused team with a developmental mindset founded on trust, good governance, and the rule of law in a strong democracy.

This article was originally published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer Commentary.

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