“It’s fascinating the degree to which the single most important question I’m asked these days is . . . ‘What’s going on with your elections?’ . . . The current presidential election is just the tip of a broader iceberg of dysfunction that we’ve seen.”
It almost sounds like something that can be said about our current election cycle, but that quote is from US President Barack Obama, who, like our sitting President, is bearing witness to a divisive, sometimes violent, often absurd campaign season that will determine his successor. If it’s any comfort, we Filipinos are not alone in this crazy exercise of choosing a new set of government leaders. Fortunately (or not, depending on where you stand), the madness ends today as we finally cast our votes.
In the final week before Election Day, Pulse Asia reported that 25 percent of voters might still change their choice of candidates. That’s a big number for a race this tight. So for those who are still on the fence, I’d like to offer up a criteria that might help you arrive at a final list of candidates, or at least a President and vice president.
Since 2002, the World Bank has been funding an annual research that looks into the governance performance of 215 economies. The Worldwide Governance Indicators (WGI) project measures these six broad dimensions of governance:
Voice and accountability – This captures perceptions regarding the ability of a country’s citizens to participate in selecting their government, as well as freedom of expression, freedom of association, and a free media.
Political stability and absence of violence/terrorism – This captures perceptions of the likelihood of political instability or politically motivated violence, including terrorism.
Government effectiveness – This captures perceptions regarding the quality of public and civil services and the degree of its independence from political pressures. It also captures the quality of policy formulation and implementation, and the government’s commitment to such policies.
Regulatory quality – This captures the ability of the government to formulate and implement sound policies and regulations that promote private sector development.
Rule of law – This captures the extent to which agents have confidence in and abide by the rules of society. In particular, it captures the quality of contract enforcement, property rights, the police, and the courts, as well as the likelihood of crime and violence.
Control of corruption – This captures perceptions of the extent to which public power is exercised for private gain, as well as “capture” of the state by elites and private interests.
Basically, the WGI project gives you a glimpse into how well a country is being run. So ask yourself this: Looking at the current field of candidates running for our country’s highest office, which one of them do you think will advance the Philippines across all these governance indicators?
Who among them will defend your personal rights, even if that right is exercised to criticize their administration? Who is best equipped to promote political stability and fight terrorism? Who has the knowledge to craft needed policies that will promote growth of the private sector? Who has shown utmost respect for the rules of society such that it inspires confidence in others? Who is prepared to run after powerful people who engage in dishonest, illegal activities?
While you consider those questions, let’s look at how the Philippines has fared so far in the WGI.
The team behind the WGI cautions against comparing short year-to-year changes in a country’s WGI ranking since changes in governance over such a brief period are difficult to measure and are usually quite small. So I looked at the changes in the Philippines’ rankings throughout the term of President Benigno Aquino 3rd, that is 2010 to 2014 (data for 2015 is not yet available).
Within that timeframe, the Philippines improved its rankings across all indicators except Control of corruption, where from a high of 70 (even higher than the US, which in 2010 was ranked 73rd), we dropped a staggering 56 places to land on the 126th spot out of 215 economies. We posted the biggest improvement in the area of Political stability, moving upward consistently since President Aquino took office, to rank 160 from a low of 202. By 2014, our best rank was in the area of Government effectiveness, where at rank 81 we were just under Saudi Arabia.
If you take an even broader look at how the country has moved across the WGI – from the time President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was elected into office in 2004 to 2014 – you will see that the Philippines advanced across all indicators, without exception. And again, we showed the most improvement in the area of Political stability (up 36 places), followed by Government effectiveness (up 24 places). Even in the area of Control of corruption, we moved up 18 places across that period.
It’s no surprise that the consistent best performers are the Nordic countries – Denmark, Finland, Sweden. But it’s also worth noting that in some indicators, Asian countries emerged at the top: Singapore has ranked consistently high in the area of Government effectiveness, and it has shared the top spot with Hong Kong in the area of Regulatory quality.
I think it also bears mentioning that all the best performing countries have a democratic form of government. Even Hong Kong, which is a Special Administrative Region of China, a communist country, identifies itself as autonomous and enjoys a democratic political system. I’ll leave it up to you to look up the ranks of those countries under authoritarian rule.
This is a lot to consider, as it should be since we’re about to hand over the wheel to a person who will lead our 100-million strong population at this critical juncture, when we finally have the momentum to achieve sustained, inclusive growth. So I enjoin all of you to make a smart, well-considered choice, not just an emotional one. We are all free to choose; the responsibility is truly ours and ours alone, therefore the leaders we elect will be the leaders we deserve.
The author is the Managing Partner & CEO of Navarro Amper & Co., the local member firm of Deloitte Southeast Asia Ltd. – a member firm of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Ltd. – comprising Deloitte practices operating in Brunei, Cambodia, Guam, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.