Without good governance, we can never be truly investment-friendly

Dindo Manhit, President, Stratbase ADR Institute

“Attracting investments” is an often-espoused objective when we talk about the economy. The objective is to make our country more attractive to investors, whether foreign or domestic, who would put in capital and operate their businesses here in the Philippines. These businesses stimulate economic activity, create jobs for the people, allowing them to have an income they could spend on their needs and wants, and to improve their quality of life.

At the outset, however, is the daunting task of creating a conducive, investment-friendly business environment. This is complicated by the long-term consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic that created havoc in the world’s — and our — health system and economy.

So, how do we get investors to take a chance on the Philippines, or raise their stakes, if they are already here? How do we recover from the damage done by the pandemic and ensure a strong and sustainable economy that would redound to improvements in the daily lives of our people? How do we avoid derailing our growth?

A survey of CEOs of various corporations taken by PwC Philippines and the Management Association of the Philippines earlier this year is instructive. The top executives were asked what factor they thought would delay Philippine recovery. Sixty-seven percent of the respondents answered “corruption.”

There were other factors — lower investments, political uncertainty, inflation, rising oil prices, among others. But these were far down on the list.

Mirroring these findings, a Pulse Asia survey commissioned by our group, Stratbase, found that 36% of Filipinos felt that economic recovery and development would benefit if corruption were controlled. In the same survey, an overwhelming 91% of Filipinos agree that to effectively control corruption, the government should cooperate with different forces and groups in society. Moreover, 92% believe that the government should strengthen anti-corruption laws and mechanisms.

These are the sentiments of the people. The survey findings indicate that both the captains of industry and the Filipino masses are aware of the close links between how our leaders govern our country, how the government engages all other sectors in society, and how the economy recovers and develops.

In theory, the situation is crystal clear. Even the solution and the way ahead seem fairly obvious — to address economic problems and ensure sustained growth, the government needs to engage the private sector, and to get the private sector onboard, the government must establish the conditions that would make them want to invest. And the best way to create these conditions is to show that there is respect for the rule of law, and that there is transparency and accountability in the conduct of government affairs.

Unfortunately, accountability — I also like its stronger, more evocative Filipino term, “pananagutan” — is something that we lack in our governance culture. Imagine if the public sector as a whole were more accountable for its actions. Imagine if all our officials made their decisions in a transparent way, and always in the interest of the people. And then the government, again as a whole, would be responsive and Filipinos would feel that their government was truly working for them. This would also prevent any individualistic, personalistic reverence for this or that politician who, more often than not, delivers less than what was promised and is eventually found to have feet of clay. This time around, we want the entire institution of government — no matter the names and faces of individuals — to work for the people.

This is thus the perfect opportunity for the Marcos administration to take up transparency and accountability as a primary agenda. It was voted into office by a majority of votes and continues to enjoy high trust and popularity ratings more than 100 days into the job. The administration could make good use of its strong mandate in exemplifying governance on every level, thus sending a clear signal to the private sector that it is ready and willing to be genuine partners in nation-building.

If this happens, this will be in stark contrast to the previous administration which demonized the private sector as oligarchs and made conflicting, if not whimsical and vindictive, decisions in working with the business community. This was grossly unfounded and unfair, if I may say so, because the private sector has thus far lived up to its role not only as drivers of the economy but also stewards of the environment, factoring in sustainability measures into their business models and operations.

Most encouraging is that among the key legislative priorities of the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC), are the Budget Modernization bill which aims to strengthen fiscal discipline, and the National Government Rightsizing Program bill which, when enacted into law, are important reforms that will strengthen the government’s accountability and efficiency to deliver public services to the people.

I look forward to more conversations on the dynamic relationship between government, the private sector, and civil society. There will be more of this next week (Nov. 21-22) during this year’s Pilipinas Conference, organized by The Stratbase ADR Institute.

Specifically, our first session on Day 1 is themed “Governance and the Private Sector: Carving Paths to Inclusive Development.” Our discussion will center on opportunities for governance reform and private sector initiatives to promote investment-led, sustainable, and resilient economic growth.

We at Stratbase have always been privileged to engage top decision makers and thought leaders in our conferences. This is already the sixth year of the Pilipinas Conference, where we have the honor to again convene and strengthen meaningful partnerships to overcome our nation’s challenges and make ordinary Filipinos feel that our progress is inclusive.

This article was originally published in BusinessWorld.

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