AS if confuting with the United Nations over its ruling that the detention of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is illegal under international human rights law were not difficult enough, the government of President Benigno BS Aquino 3rd is now taking on another global titan – the World Bank.
The argument this time is over a new World Bank report that portrays this country as taking a major slide in the rankings among the world’s economies.
In the WB’s Ease of Doing Business 2016 report, which serves as a guide for investors and businesses doing business in various parts of the world, out of 189 countries studied, the Philippines slid six notches from 97th in the rankings in 2015, to 103rd in the 2016 report.
The new report was presented Wednesday by the International Finance Corp. (IFC), the World Bank’s private sector lending arm, at a media briefing.
The report’s unflattering findings on the Philippines could not have come at a more inopportune time for the Aquino administration, because the Philippines is hosting this November the summit of leaders of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, which will bring to our capital the leaders of the world’s biggest and most dynamic economies in the Asia-Pacific region.
The event is a coming-out party for which the Aquino administration has been preparing long and hard, believing that it will have the opportunity to show the world that the Philippines is the Asia-Pacific’s new and rising star. It is supposed to reinforce our earlier hosting of the World Economic Forum, wherein we billed our country as the “new Asian economic miracle.”
Alarmingly, the rankings and findings of the World Bank report contradict this message and image in almost every way.
So naturally, the administration, with Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima in the lead, is up in arms, protesting the WB report and criticizing it as erratic and questionable.
Purisima is the most incensed because he is the country’s most assiduous promoter and salesman. He concocted the slogan, “Good governance is good economics” as Aquino’s economic mantra. He invented the tale about a new Asian miracle, ignoring that the miracle already began in the years of then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who the current President has arrested and keeps under arrest. And Purisima was entrusted with billions of public money to purchase investment grade ratings for the country from the world’s top credit-rating agencies.
Being ranked 103rd among 189 countries doesn’t square with these lofty claims. Indeed, it appears to belie them. And it grates when you consider that we are the 12th largest country in the world in terms of population.
At the Wednesday briefing, the IFC said that the country’s “overall ranking decline reflected the Philippines’ slight drops in most of the 10 sub-indicators of the Doing Business program.”
The report was a shock because Filipino officials actually expected an upgrade of the country’s position from 97th to 65th in the 2016 report.
Our National Competitiveness Council (NCC), whose reason for being was undercut by the WB report, criticized the IFC for using “erratic and unsound methodology,” and questioned the relevance of the annual rankings.
“Despite our efforts to introduce reform projects to improve the ease of doing business in the Philippines, IFC shows different sets of scores and rankings every year due to a change in methodology,” said Guillermo Luz, the private sector co-chairman of the NCC.
All the remonstrations notwithstanding, the cat is out of the bag.
One Philippine business magazine, BizNews Asia, merrily trumpeted the news in a cover and cover story, which declared “If you want to start a business, don’t start it in the Philippines.”
The magazine elaborated on the theme with this lengthy subhead:
“The World Bank ranks the Philippines 95th in ease of doing business, 161st in starting a business, 124th in dealing with construction permits, 108th in registering property, 104th in getting credit, 127th in paying taxes, 124th in enforcing contracts, 65th in trading across borders, and 50th in resolving insolvency. Considering that there are 189 economies, the Philippine rankings are a disgrace and put a lie to the claims of Daang Matuwid.”
Despite all the rhetoric of President Aquino about fighting corruption, his government has been ineffectual, incompetent and corrupt. There is only so much that President Aquino can blame on President Arroyo.
Indeed, Aquino must worry that many of the few good things that have happened will not be credited to him but to Arroyo.
Among these, according to the Moody’s rating service, are “institutional improvements” including “performance-informed” budgeting that has improved expenditure oversight, various tax administration measures that have boosted compliance, and enhanced procurement processes that have led to cost savings.
There is no substitute to a realistic and truthful account in presenting our country to the hard-nosed leaders of APEC.