A more predictable united nation?



Well, Iilian Mihov, the dean of INSEAD, a well-respected international education institute, thinks that the Philippine business environment is unpredictable. Most readers, I think, would agree it is unpredictable. The question the statement raises is why it is unpredictable and how this unpredictability manifests itself.

It is unarguable [isn’t it?] that the Philippines is very heavily politicised, that administrations only have a six-year life and that almost certainly, whatever is done by one administration is overturned by the next. Given the up to 10,000 presidential appointees in government, then it is not too difficult to change whatever good or bad things the next group inherits. But this is just one reason for the unpredictability. Things just don’t seem to operate in a rational manner. It may take two or three years to achieve some form of regulatory permit due to the slow speed at which these sorts of procedures go. During those two or three years, the requirements may suddenly change thanks to some new bright idea of the authorities or even because of a new senior appointee, and rather than continuing to completion in accordance with the requirements that were in force when you started the process, you have to go back to the beginning and start all over again.

Very little, it seems, is immutable. Things change with the speed of light sometimes and without any warning whatsoever.

What is needed is stability, consistency, rationality. Things should happen as a reasonable person would expect them to, but it seems that decisions are often made for the sake of expediency, or emotionally without too much thought being given to the justification for the decision or to its consequences.

I remember somebody saying to me when I first visited the Philippines “things don’t happen as you would expect” – how true. Conversely, rational decisions are often not communicated well. Coal for power, for example, is a rational choice if properly planned given the lack of any viable alternative, but it raises massive resistance.

It’s difficult to try to identify a “national vision” in a nation which appears to be obsessed with self-interest; to make enough money somehow or other to survive, to make more money at the expense of everybody else, to be “in control” to have power, or simply to get revenge for some slight or other. It should not be the case that the legions of petty bureaucrats either don’t care enough to give proper service and actually help people, or, as often appears to be the case, get a kick out of turning down applications for exceedingly minor transgressions of the rules, like filling in a form in blue ink rather than black – go back and start again. Process-fixated economies do not work well.

One of the more significant events at the start of the Russian revolution of 1917 was a demonstration in Petrograd during a very harsh winter by several thousand starving workers – agricultural production had fallen significantly due to the farmers being enlisted for military service in the First World War – marching on the Tsar’s palace pleading for food. The Tsar was traditionally seen as the father of the Russian people. The authorities tolerated this demonstration for several days until it was decided that the demonstrators should be swept away and violent dispersal was used, resulting in many deaths. The demonstrations continued even after this and eventually the police and military joined cause with the demonstrators. It seems unlikely to me that such an allegiance would occur in the Philippines. Individual perceptions of “what is best for me” would get in the way of that.

There seems to be a need for a hearts-and-minds campaign. The citizenry need to be guided by knowledgeable qualified leadership on what is best for them, and what is best for them may not always be what is most popular. They need to have faith and to be shown why a certain course of action is in their best interest, the results they need are more decent jobs, greater opportunity, a better quality of life, and to feel safe, not just from criminals but that they would be covered if they get sick or dispossessed. The economy needs to provide them with a safety net, for now there is none, and it’s scary. If they see that these things are being delivered in an even-handed, nonpartisan way, they will have some trust in the leadership and they will unite.

How can you expect to unite a nation if the leadership is seen to be as self-interested as anybody else and does not deliver what people need? Sometimes the best option is a long-term benevolent dictator, too much democracy lacking a unifying force can be a bad thing as many Indians would tell you!

Mike can be contacted at mawootton@gmail.com.


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