Posted on Nov 15 2011 by admin

This is a re-posted opinion piece.

Much was written the past days over the appropriateness of the President and his Transport Secretary having a photo-op inside an airport toilet. After all, how many heads of state anywhere else have we seen posing for photos in toilets?

There might be much novelty in that photo. It is, after all, a little queer and a little tasteless. It is not the duty of presidents to inspect public toilets and check faucets for running water.

True, the condition of our airport toilets may be an international sensation. The Manila International Airport found itself on various lists, ranking high among the worst and the most hated air transport facilities globally.

In which case, the condition of the toilets might have become something of a national calamity worthy of direct presidential intervention. Nevertheless, there was really no need for a presidential photo-op inside the toilet. That only invites, well, toilet humor. The Palace propaganda team goofed again.

In the end, however, that unfortunate presidential photo-op is not important beyond indicating to us the quality of the President’s media handlers. What is important is the context for that event, the significations it holds.

After the Manila airport figured in negative lists, upgrading the facility became the most important thing on the national agenda. Architects and designers were quickly ushered in to do an instant makeover: installing gardens here and canopies there, improving the lighting and perhaps teaching the airport staff some manners.

A ballpark figure of P1 billion was quoted as the anticipated expense for this makeover, even if this does not include adding another runway or upgrading traffic flow. P1 billion just for gardens, canopies and new lights — along with the official hyperbole about transforming this into the “most loved” airport just by adding a few more light bulbs.

Was this a national priority before the airport figured in the negative lists? Is the money for the makeover actually budgeted? Was this project actually planned for?

Or (and this is the disturbing question), is the frenzied effort to makeover our airport yet another instance of ad hoc responses to concerns trolled up by the media?

At about the same time the Manila airport was attracting global notoriety by consistently ranking high in one negative list after another, there were other harbingers of bad news.

Earlier, we saw our best schools fall off the list of the best universities. We ranked near the top of the list on the worst place to do business in, close to such economic carcasses as Venezuela which is ruled by a clown. In the whole of East Asia, we are the worst place to do business in. The Philippines attracted only 2.5 percent of total investment flows into the ASEAN. Involuntary hunger, by the latest survey, spiked to record levels. Our exports are on a tailspin, with our mainstay electronics exports declining by over 40 percent.

These other items are not unrelated with the condition of the airport. An unfriendly airport matches an unfriendly economy. The chaos at the airport is matched by the palpable chaos in the business environment.

Over the past year, several ODA-funded contracts were summarily abrogated by the administration, inducing suits in the international arbitration court. A long list of infra projects to be undertaken under the PPP program remains in purgatory while the framework for the program remains unclear. Businessmen feel persecuted. Officials in both the executive and legislative branches make reckless utterances. The latest, Justice Secretary de Lima’s statement about the former president seeking political asylum abroad drew official rebuke from the Dominican Republic.

Uncertain about the disconcerting and disconcerted drift in official policy, investors are reluctant to commit to our economy.

Take the issue of excise taxes on alcohol and tobacco products.

Last year, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad opposed a move to raise excise taxes. He presented a position paper to the House ways and means committee arguing that raising excise taxes will not lead to increase in revenues. Raising excise taxes immediately forces up prices. Price increases dampen demand. A sharp drop in the demand for the products covered could actually bring down revenues. Abad drew from a study done by the National Tax Research Center.

Companies have since made investment decisions based on what appeared to be a stable policy position by the administration on the matter. Abad, however, flip-flopped on the issue and today calls for an increase in excise taxes. The reasons for the sharp turnaround are not clear.

What seems clear to many businessmen is that it is difficult to trust stated policy. Policies, even when they are based on competent studies by government agencies themselves, could change without forewarning. At times, the factors driving the changes are mysterious.

The fault lies in the absence of a clearly articulated roadmap for our economy’s progress. Without that, there is no reliable basis for anticipating the priorities of this government. A clearly articulated economic roadmap enables policies to be more predictable, creating a friendlier environment for business decisions.

Without such a clearly articulated roadmap, specific policies will appear unhinged. Government decisions will appear incoherent and uncoordinated. Business confidence, already severely taxed by all the flip-flopping, cannot be regained.

A quick facelift might do the airport some good. We will need a bit more than just cosmetic changes to win back investor confidence in our economy, what with all the idiocy characterizing our political skirmishes and the glaring lack of sound, forward-looking policy leadership.
By: Alex Magno - First Person
Source: The Philippine Star, Nov. 15, 2011
To view the original article, click here.

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