Category Archives: Philippine Development Plan

Use your coconut: Of investment gaps and how to fill them

The coconut serves as a good analogy for our under investment problem.

The five year Philippine Development Plan (aka “the Plan”) released by the government of President Aquino earlier this year identifies a number of “structural defects” underpinning the country’s poor economic performance. Depicting the problem was easy enough. Without a significant uptick in investments, inclusive growth will remain elusive and poverty will continue to hound us, so the Plan says.

Using an analogy inspired by Robinson Crusoe to grasp this, imagine living on an island where the only resource is the coconut and inhabitants keep arriving. The only way to feed a growing population is to plant more coconut trees. “Investing” in more trees requires hiring more laborers to climb them in order to harvest the coconut. Some coconuts could be consumed, while others could be traded for products from other islands.

The Philippines has lagged behind its Asian neighbors in investing, which explains why it is so poor. Exhibit A as provided by the Philippine Development Plan is reproduced here (see below). Since peaking at 25% in 1997, the country’s investment-to-GDP ratio has been steadily declining, underperforming Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. A familiar story for Philippine-watchers–we have all heard or read about this before.

Chart 1. Investment-to-GDP Ratios of Selected Asian Countries: 1994-2010 (in percent)

So what is the reason for this underinvestment? The answer given to us is a lack of competitiveness. The country’s lagging infrastructure, its poor governance and inadequate skill base are increasing the cost of doing business in the country. On the island for instance, a lack of tools to harvest coconuts, a lack of laborers with the skill at converting coconuts into useful products and a lack of boats to transport them offshore is the problem. Now what? Well, according to this narrative, massive infrastructure spending, improved governance and human capital development is warranted.

So beginning next year, the government will be bidding out four initial infrastructure projects amounting to twenty five billion pesos to improve infrastructure in the country. After a year of delays, the amount is about a quarter of what was originally slated. The projects include the construction and maintenance of three airports in Cebu, Bohol and Misamis Oriental and the ticketing system for Manila’s three light railways.

The government has also been busy this year fixing the internal procurement systems within the public works, agriculture and education departments. Much of the budgeted expenditures for this year was held back (a little over half of infrastructure budget as of September has not been spent) due to these efforts, but beginning next year, we are told, they should proceed much more smoothly. The DepEd also has a plan to close the gap in school buildings within the next five years mainly through build, lease transfer agreements with the private sector.

Assuming all these projects go ahead without further delay, we should expect the nation’s problems to be fixed in five years, right? Well, not exactly. One needs to get a sense of the scale of the problem first. This is why I did some very rough back-of-the-envelope calculations to determine the overall size of the employment and investment gaps. Using our island analogy it is like asking the question, how many coconut trees need to be planted to provide enough work for its growing number of inhabitants?

Climbing the coconut tree

Using data from 2005 to 2010, I tried to compute how much additional investments would be needed in the next five years to bring unemployment down from where it is currently at 7.4% to a more manageable level of say 4%. The country has about three million unemployed workers out of a total labor force of thirty-nine million in 2010. Each year about seven hundred thousand new entrants are added to this pool, which means a workforce of about forty-three million by 2016.

So for the country to produce jobs for all of these new entrants and reduce the pool of unemployed workers down to about 1.7 million consistent with an unemployment rate of 4% by 2016, about one million net new jobs need to be created each year. This is consistent with the government’s employment target. There is nothing new there.

The reason why we haven’t seen unemployment decline is because the number of net new jobs created each year is usually slightly below the number of new entrants (see Chart 2 below). Thus, the number of those unemployed steadily rises each year in proportion to the growing work force leaving the unemployment rate relatively stable at around 7.5%. The question now is how much additional investments have to be raised to bring this down to 4%.

Chart 2. Supply and Demand of New Jobs in the Philippines: 2006 to 2010

If one compares the average investments over the past five years of about one-and-a-half trillion pesos per year  (roughly 15% of GDP as shown in Chart 1–see preceding section) with the average number of net new jobs created of about seven hundred thousand per year, one arrives at a figure of about four hundred and fifty new jobs for every one billion pesos spent.

The number of jobs created per peso invested has actually been declining. Back in 1994, a billion pesos in today’s prices would produce about four times as many new jobs. This means that part of the problem has been the increase in productivity particularly in the manufacturing sector where technological progress has reduced the amount of workers required for any given level of output to be produced. In other words, new tools have been created that make climbing the coconut tree a lot easier. As a result, fewer workers are needed.

Assuming that the ratio of new jobs created per peso invested remains steady for the next five years, the amount of investments required to bring unemployment down is about two trillion pesos per year (20-25% of GDP, roughly where we were in the mid- to late-90s). Compared with the average amount of investment spending cited above, this would mean an increase of more than half a trillion pesos (close to six hundred billion) a year or an increase of about forty percent from the current base.

Had the government stuck to its original plan and rolled out a hundred billion pesos worth of projects and assuming an investment multiplier of two (which means a one-for-one additional investment in complementary projects amounting to two hundred billion in total), we would end up filling about a third of the required level of additional investments. Given its planned roll-out is now about a quarter of the original, we will only be achieving close to ten percent of the investment gap. In short, the “solution” does not seem anywhere near the required amount.

“The coconut nut is not a nut”

Here is another problem with the Plan: the assumption that improved competitiveness will steadily increase investments seems straight-forward, but reading the Global Competitiveness Report produced by the World Economic Forum, I find a few anomalies. The chart below shows the various country rankings from 2005 since the Report first came out until 2011 (click the play button).

The Competitiveness Index is a composite score made up of twelve components. These “twelve pillars” that hold up an economy cover things like institutions, macroeconomic policy, infrastructure, health, education, innovation and regulation. The Plan says that the “structural defects” in these pillars as shown by our declining ranking is the chief cause for our declining economy as measured by our investments-to-GDP ratio.

Our ranking has declined alright, but only because of the addition of more countries in the league table in the intervening years. Our score (which you can see by hovering the cursor over the appropriate column) on the competitiveness scale actually rose from 3.71 to 4.08 out of six during the period covered just above Indonesia’s score of 4.05 back in 2005.

Refering back to the first chart, it is clear that in 2008 when our score was actually 4.09, our investment-to-GDP ratio did not climb to anywhere near the level of Indonesia back in 2005. This is like saying two students who scored the same on their tests, did not receive the same final grade. There is an anomaly here.

One might argue that it is our ranking and not our score that counts, so that relative to our neighbors, our score continued to lag and that explains the poorer investment-to-GDP ratio. Makes sense if the grading of students is not based on their absolute scores, but on their relative rankings within the class, right?

Well then, according to that argument, Malaysia which ranked first among its neighbors in terms of competitiveness should have outperformed them in terms of its investments, but the first chart actually shows it slipping steadily below Indonesia and Thailand since 2002 and coming dangerously close to parity with the Philippines. In fact, Indonesia which has consistently come in third in the ratings and rankings of the four neighbors has steadily risen to outclass the Malaysian and Thai investment ratios by 2009 and 2010.

So perhaps, achieving “global competitiveness” is not what it is all “cracked up” to be. It would seem that some other dynamic is driving investments. As one song goes, “the coconut nut is not a nut.” This should give you a lot to think about, which gives me a few days to conclude this. Until then, let me leave you with this tune to fuel your ruminations…

The National Development Project, part 3: Renovating the Bureaucracy

This is the third of a three-part series on the Philippine Development Plan 2011-2016.

We have looked at the PNoy government’s development strategy in Part 1 in which infrastructure was seen as the problem to unlock investment and that better governance of projects would work a treat. In Part 2, Re-defining Good Governance, we scanned three possible models for good governance. We concluded that the best approach, the East Asian model, was difficult to emulate but not insurmountable.

In this third part, we investigate specific ways of renovating the bureaucracy along East Asian lines. In part 2, the work of Peter Evans* on the lessons of political institutions and development illuminated much of the discussion. It will also help inform this one.

The task at hand

Finding a recipe for good governance is something that every nation has to figure out on its own as the East Asian experience has demonstrated. There is no ‘one size fits all’ policy. While Evans attests to the importance of establishing minimum levels of probity, he also does not recommend that we attempt this renovation with the bureaucracy universally.

The main focus of capacity building in East Asia has been the economic bureaucracy. The role and scope of this project covers tax and subsidy policy, industry, trade and investment policy, planning and development as well as regulatory policy. In the Philippines, we have to include some enforcement mechanisms as well.

When he announced his presidential bid, PNoy talked about his recipe for countering the calculus of corruption. The two basic ingredients include both carrot and stick. The president has yet to outline basic reforms to put that in action. It is towards informing that agenda, that the following policy recommendations are submitted.

Policy Recommendations

1. Corporatization of Revenue Agencies.

So far the government has been emphasizing the ‘stick’ component of the recipe through schemes aimed at enforcing the law against tax cheats, smugglers and the colluding elements within the bureaus of internal revenue and customs.

Though it has produced some modest returns, it is time to put the next element, namely the ‘carrot’ in place to address long-term improvements in the professionalism of our revenue agencies. This implies tweaking the career and compensation systems working within them.

Corporatization is the way by which the government has been able to pay its agents salaries commensurate to, if not exceeding that of, their private counterparts. Singapore achieved this for its entire bureaucracy, but it is the sole Confucian state to do so. The others achieved it through a combination of salaries, allowances and benefits.

The newly minted GOCC law now provides greater safeguards against abuse done by non-performing companies. It will govern the corporatization of the BIR and BoC. In exchange for the higher compensation, transition into the new agencies must be based on merit and not guaranteed for old bureau officials.

The boards of the new revenue agencies should be allowed to appoint people from among the ‘best and brightest’. Tougher qualifying exams, educational attainments, and past performance should all be part of the selection process. Where posts cannot be filled with existing staff, recruiting externally should be the resort.

2. Economic bureaucracy renovation.

To complement the corporatization of revenue agencies, key elements of the economic bureaucracy have to be beefed up. The Department of Finance, parts of the Department of Trade and Industry, those relating to industry and trade policy and the National Economic Development Agency need to be covered.

The idea is to strengthen and coordinate its policy making capacity. I will have more to say on this below under number 6, but what I would like to pay attention to here is again the recruitment, compensation and performance package.

For the independence of our economic bureaucracy to be secured, requirements for hiring have to be made more stringent. Salaries for managers and executives which might be 2/3 that of their private sector equivalent need to be augmented with benefits and allowances that could cover a more attractive retirement and health package, housing, transport, childcare and education, and communications.

What will they be expected to do that would merit such an upgrade in their compensation and why just target these agencies? Well, under the good governance model of East Asia, the economic bureaucracy is responsible for increasing the flow of investments into and from within the country.

To do that, they need to be adept at wielding both the carrot and the stick to investors. They will also need to be coherent in pursuing a development agenda and in orchestrating it using taxes and subsidies. To make them immune to outside influence whilst engaging with the business community, their rewards including both monetary and non-monetary have to be upgraded.

3. Limitations to presidential appointments.

When the controversy surrounding LTO Chief Virginia Torres a presidential appointee and shooting range pal first showed up, I took the opportunity to advocate for more serious limits to the president’s appointive powers.

I was met with skepticism at first by a fellow contributor to this space, but in the end some kind of consensus was formed. The issue then was cleansing the roster of the past president’s appointees.

Now that the GOCC law has in effect dealt with that, it is now high time to revisit the larger issue. From several thousands, I believe the presidential appointments need to be scaled down to several hundreds. That might be hard given the number of boards and government authorities that abound.

I believe the GOCC Commission needs to act like the Civil Service Commission in screening appointments to government boards and heads of GOCCs, just as I believe the CSC should do the same for the line agencies and the NAPOLCOM for the police. Either by convention or by law the president’s appointments should be restricted to his Cabinet and a few cabinet subalterns.

4. Outsourcing much of the Commission on Audit’s role.

Another thing I have been advocating here since the scams involving corruption in the military was uncovered was for the COA to outsource much of its functions to private auditing firms.

This has been the practice in Australia already where the Attorney General’s department merely sets policy and standards with regards to government audits. The actual audits must be done not by ‘in-house’ government auditors who are very susceptible to influence, but by external firms who must be rotated in accordance with the Code of Good Governance adopted by the SEC.

In fact the scope of audits should not be restricted to financial management alone, but to management of risk and occupational health and safety. Private auditing firms already have the capacity for performing this function. They are already subject to professional standards of excellence which if broken lead to the cancellation of their professional licenses.

5. Incentives for Prosecutors of Big Cases.

Catching and prosecuting the ‘big fish’ has been made a priority by this government. Yet, no real sets of incentives have been put on the table for addressing the task at hand.

When hundreds of millions, if not billions, of pesos are involved, the government needs to ensure that its prosecution team have a stake in winning the case. In the private sector that involves sharing in a portion of the damages.

The settlement by the previous Ombudsman in the case of Carlos Garcia demonstrates how difficult it would be to provide a similar incentive structure for the public sector.

If a reward based on a percentage of recovered ill-gotten wealth is instituted, that would have meant rewards to the past Ombudsman for settling the case. Perhaps the reward ought only to apply when cases are prosecuted and not settled out of court.

The Ombudsman and the Office of the Solicitor General (essential generals in the fight) which are given the task of prosecuting graft cases before the Sandiganbayan and Supreme Court respectively need to have more than a kind of altruistic motivation for performing their duties. The need to have protection and financial security.

Paying them higher salaries alone might not be enough to motivate them to exert maximum effort even in very winnable cases. Some sort of sharing in the spoils which would go both to their office and to chief prosecutors and their staff needs to be put on the table.

I know that some will argue that this is the people’s money and that any recovered ill-gotten or plundered wealth needs to be returned 100% to the coffers to fund social programs. This assumes that we are working with incorruptible Confucian super bureaucrats. That is not the case here. We need to live in the real world, not in some ideal fantasy land.

6. Creation of a Productivity Commission.

The importance of having a lead agency within the economic bureaucracy is one lesson learnt from the East Asian experience. This lead agency role was performed by MITI in Japan, the Economic Planning Board of Korea, the Industry Development Boards of Taiwan, the Economic Development Board of Singapore, and the Productivity Commission of Australia.

In the Philippines, I am proposing the creation of a Productivity Commission similar to Australia’s to be under the Department of Finance with direct access to the President. Elements of DoF, the government think tank PIDS, Tariff Commission, National Income Tax Research Center, and DTI need to be brought into this agency or at least made accessible to it.

Its role will be to advice the president on matters relating to government red-tape, taxes and subsidies (including to agriculture), telco, port and aviation policy and industry policy more broadly. A secondary focus could be in housing or economic development and climate change policy.

The commission in navigating the post-WTO environment should do so without engaging in what Evans calls ‘anticipatory acquiescence’ on the one hand by pushing the envelope a la China on protectionist policies when it suits our development goals, but use our external commitments as a shield against regressive private interests on the other hand (for example on sin taxes).

As part of the economic bureaucracy, it should have the same high recruitment and compensation standards as the rest of the economic bureaucracy. This will enable its agents to be immune from lobbying and rent-seeking by private agents.

7. Limitations to the scope of rent-seeking.

As highlighted by Evans, rent-seeking did continue to a surprisingly large extent in East Asia even as their economic bureaucracies forged ahead with many productivity enhancing measures.

Traditionally the agriculture or construction departments were used by reformist governments to engage in clientelism with their constituents usually ex-military men, party mates or in the case of Taiwan, former residents of the mainland.

This makes the task of emulating them within reach for countries like the Philippines where the practice of paternalism is embedded in our culture. This means that while the areas of rent-seeking are limited on the one hand, it will continue nonetheless and will be an essential part of governing.

The purists will argue against pork barreling and the dispensing of largesse through the PCSO, PAGCOR, DPWH, DOA and so on, but we must remember that a certain amount of populist clientelism is necessary. We have to take a balanced view of things. If it helps the executive push for more substantial reforms, then the area of rent-seeking will gradually diminish.

Conclusion

The long road to economic development has many twists and turns. Perhaps what PNoy’s government has to acknowledge is that sometimes the shortest distance between two points is not a straight line. An understanding of the lessons of good governance in East Asia is essential for appreciating this fact.

Without the ability to withstand rent-seeking on the part of private agents in the sphere of economic policy, the national development project never advances very far. The need for a solid economic bureaucracy is the first step in emulating the ‘fast-paced growth’ these nations experienced.

The ‘carrot and stick’ approach articulated by PNoy at his presidential bid announcement needs to be further developed into meaningful policies. So far the Philippine Development Plan only covers very generic non-targeted approaches. Zeroing in on the economic bureaucracy and some key enforcement agencies is needed.

The road ahead is fraught with risk. Our country did not start off with the auspicious initial conditions of an egalitarian society that our East Asian brothers had. Regardless, a path is laid out before us that makes it attainable despite initial infirmities. If we have faith and confidence in our abilities and not succumb to fatalism, we may at least further the project of nation-building along the way in the years ahead.

* Evans, Peter (1998). Transferrable Lessons? Re-examining Institutional Pre-requisites of East Asian Economic Policies, Journal of Development Studies 34 (6), p.21.

The National Development Project, part 2: Re-defining Good Governance

This is a continuation of Part 1: The National Development Project.

Governance is the cornerstone of the Aquino presidency, and this point is brought out by his development plan. Since Public-Private Partnerships which is the Plan’s centerpiece has been around since the mid-80s under the name Build-Operate-Transfer, better governance of them will provide the only new impetus to growth.

The question now becomes what sort of governance model best suits this strategy?

Peter Evans in an essay entitled Transferrable Lessons? Re-examining Institutional Pre-requisites of East Asian Economic Policies states that there are three alternative models of good governance. He describes them as:

  • The ‘market-friendly model’, best exemplified by the World Bank’s [1993] East Asian Miracle report, which focuses on ‘getting the fundamentals right’. In this model, “government must preserve macroeconomic stability and provide ‘rules of the game’ that are transparent and predictable.”
  • The ‘industrial policy’ model, which is best epitomised by Chalmers Johnson’s classic [1982] study of MITI (Ministry of International Trade and Industry), more demands are placed on economic policy makers…Policies nurturing the general macroeconomic environment must be complemented by “industry-specific policies that push setors most worth pursuing and shift capital out of sectors with declining returns and weak growth prospects.”
  • The ‘profit-investment nexus’ model [Akyuz and Gore, 1996] which shares with the ‘industry policy model’ the idea that policy must do more than simply provide a facilitative macroeconomic environement, but is not as demanding of industry-specific policies. Policies must simply increase the overall level of investment and not necessarily foster certain “sunrise” industries.

The relevant part of the Plan that describes the administration’s governance model is Chapter 7: Good Governance and the Rule of Law. From the elements and the tone of the text, it sounds like that the Plan is using the ‘market-friendly’ model with its four-pronged strategy of eliminating red-tape, pursuing anti-corruption, increasing citizen participation and accountability.

Ensuring a minimum level of probity is consistent with all three models of governance. As Evans states “if developing countries…could achieve the levels of bureaucratic capacity entailed in the ‘market friendly’ model, the additional capacity implied by other models would be institutionally within reach.

That should not be taken to mean though that emulating East Asia requires incorruptible super bureaucrats able to “out-manage their private counterparts from a distance.” As Evans explains,

Minimal norms of probity and competence need to be applied on a general basis, but East Asian reformers did not attempt to transform every ministry. Radical changes were reserved for key economic agancies; routinized behavour and surprisingly high levels of clientelism were allowed to persist in those considered less crucial to the national development project.

If there is any positive thing the economic rationalist theory has contributed to our understanding of governance, it has been the couching of rent-seeking in non-pejorative (or moralistic) terms, according to Evans. Rent-seeking which can take the form of lobbying or corruption is merely a form of profit-maximization on the part of rational agents.

When Mrs Arroyo in an interview at the start of her administration said for instance, that as an economist, she understood that markets did not operate in a ‘frictionless’ environment, she was acknowledging the need for transactions costs. Clientelism is sometimes needed by reformists to ‘payoff’ or compensate those hurt by reforms.

The East Asian countries did not try to reform the entire bureaucracy or weed out rent-seeking in one swoop. They took a different approach:

  • In Japan, the Ministry of International Trade and Industry performed the reformist role, while the Ministry of Agriculture continued to operate along clientelistic lines.
  • In Korea, a bifurcated bureaucracy existed, with the Economic Planning Board taking the helm of development while Construction followed along paternalistic lines.
  • In Taiwan the ruling Kuomintang Party ensured meritocratic appointments to key economic agencies while allowing a “back door” entry for retired military and party members to other parts of the civil service.
  • The pervasiveness of the Confucian ‘super bureaucrats’ in East Asia is a myth save for Singapore where civil servants are paid more than their private sector counterparts.

The Plan seeks to renovate the entire bureaucracy all at the same time. A very noble and ambitious goal, but it is difficult to imagine how this will be achieved given its meager resources and the quality of the civil service pool. This strategy is fraught with risk. Perhaps the biggest risk involves spreading the reform effort too thinly.

Avoiding Capture

A coherent economic bureaucracy was deemed necessary for the state to engage with but avoid capture by increasingly more powerful and wealthy private interests.

Initial conditions fostered the formation of this sort of governance model, namely, an egalitarian society, which was the result of land reform sponsored by the Americans after the War and the external policy environment that allowed market distorting industry and currency policy which was made possible by the US Cold War strategy of propping up capitalist states in the region.

The unlikelihood of duplicating such initial conditions is what causes pessimism with regard to the national development project for late bloomers like the Philippines. Yet, Evans encourages us to resist the fatalism of this view by saying

(w)hat puts East Asian practices out of reach is less likely to be external compulsion than antiipatory acquiescence by developing country governments to perceived constraints.

The rapid growth of China most recently proves that despite its signing up to the World Trade Organization, it has managed to resist measures to prevent it from exercising some of the tools under the industry and profit-nexus models. Singapore demonstrates in fact how the tools have evolved to more sophisticated measures that no longer involve the strong arm tactics applied elsewhere.

The more difficult problem has to do with large inequalities. While concentration of wealth should not necessarily hinder but in fact aid the formation of capital in productive areas, large inequalities have a corrosive function in the policy process.

State capture is what prevented the Philippines in the 1950s and 60s from following a similar path as its neighbors in the region although Malaysia and Singapore managed to avoid this despite having similar disparities among social groups. Here again is what Evans has to say

Entrenched inequality undercuts legitimacy of state autonomy…makes it hard for governments to credibly claim that they represent a national development project. Populist clientelism seems to offer at least a temporary relief to the excluded and close government-business ties which look more like a conspiracy for redistribution upwards than a joint project of national development.

It sounds like he is describing what happened to the country when it opted for a populist clientelist president in the person of Joseph Estrada. The perception was that growth under the elites was only favoring the rich.

Charting a new path

This brings us back to the questions of nepotism and cronyism that have started to emerge even in PNoy’s first year. In a country where only a small group of ruling elites hold much sway over the economy, it becomes difficult to prevent such rumors from floating.

If sanitizing all state agencies from clientelist practices can be ruled out (at least on the ground, despite its being paid lip service), the need to ring fence private rent seeking interest groups from crucial economic policies and infrastructure projects needs to be guaranteed.

That means boosting the capacity of the economic bureaucracy. The Plan which is the first one under the post-IMF oversight period, fails to break out of ‘perceived constraints’ by not examining other more effective governance models.

It remains wedded to the old generic formula of macroeconomic stability, open markets and establishing rule of law which has failed to produce results in places where it has been attempted, namely in Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa. The challenge now is convincing the policy elite to chart a different path.

To be concluded…go to Part 3: Renovating the Bureaucracy

 

Government releases Philippine Development blueprint

The Philippine Development Plan is the “economic blueprint,” that the Aquino administration will follow. It lays down the framework for fiscal reforms. PDP centers around a target to increase the tax effort (which is a ratio of tax revenues as a percentage of GDP). The government aims revitalize revenue leak campaigns such as the Bureau of Internal Revenue’s “Run after Tax Evaders,” and the Bureau of Customs’ “Run After Smugglers programs;” as well as the Department of Finance’s Revenue Integrity Protection Service.

With the publishing of PDP, it becomes clearer that Government intends to build a registry of its tax base.

The plan also calls for better trained Bureau of Internal Revenue, Bureau of Customs staff.

The National Economic Development Authority published the economic blueprint for the Aquino administration. The version posted on NEDA’s website is, according to Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Cayetano Paderanga, Jr., “more or less final, pending administrative procedures,” Business World quoted.

Business World also noted that the “Fiscal Incentives Bill,” is currently pending in Congress and is expected to be approved by the end of 2011. The Aquino administration aims to rationalize fiscal incentives with the passage of the bill.

The PDP noted that there should be a “Fiscal Responsibility Law,” that would promote discipline, and manage National Debt, and that any expenditure should be accompanied by a revenue-generating measure.

The document also highlights the government’s push for environment conservation.

Photo credit: Some rights reserved by FriskoDude