September 12 - September 18, 2005

Ike Señeres

Localizing the renewed export drive

There’s nothing new about my advocacy to have a renewed export drive, but perhaps I am the only one saying now that we should do it in a “mega-massive” way, because it is already a do or die proposition for us. Right now, it could not be denied that without the overseas remittances of our compatriots who are abroad, the economy would have died already. It may be argued that we are still earning somehow from our customs revenues, but I am sure that without the overseas remittances, there will be a lesser demand for imported goods, and that brings us back to the importance of our “saviors”, our compatriots abroad.

It’s apparently by design that up to now, our export drive is not localized, meaning that our export planning and management is still done from the top, without a defined procedure or method for the systematic involvement of our provincial government units (PGUs). Perhaps it’s just my own personal bias, but I believe more in the bottom to top approach. I have observed that right now, we are not even unbundling our national export data into a per province basis, and it also appears that our PGUs do not seem to have their own export targets.

Conceptually, I think that it would be very useful to break down our export targets and performance into the provincial level, especially for monitoring purposes. Conceptually as well, this particular data would be very useful in allocating our national resources in support of local needs, for instance for purposes of extending export subsidies. On the practical side, it would also give us a reference for measuring how robust or how laggard a local economy is.

While we are on this subject, I think that we should also pay attention to the service exports of the PGUs, and not just the products side. This is very important, because the infra requirements of the service industries are distinctly unique. Take the case of call centers for instance. It has become a sunrise industry, but it is not clearly known how many provinces are ready for it, and what infra they would need to be able to take advantage of this very promising opportunity.

Perhaps just as an aside, I think that it would be best for the provinces to take on a “parliamentary” form of government, with the Vice Governor acting as the “Prime Minister” (presiding officer) and with each Board Member assigned a “Cabinet” position, in other words each of them having a specific “sectoral” assignment. Towards this end, I suggest the adoption of ten “basic needs” as a common agenda among all the provinces, so that their performance could be measurable and comparable. At the core of this agenda should be livelihood (the primary priority), followed by health, education, environment and security as the secondary priorities, and by food, shelter, energy, recreation and mobility as the tertiary priorities. In this hierarchy of needs, livelihood is the primary priority because the people could just acquire or pay for the other basic needs for as long as they have a source of income. By comparison however, all the secondary priorities listed could not be easily acquired by the people even if they have the money, hence the government must intervene to make sure that these are made available.

By definition, livelihood could mean either jobs or businesses. Security should include all protective services such as police, fire, ambulance, rescue prisons and disaster management. Needless to say, environmental security concerns such as garbage, floods, air pollution, water pollution and soil pollution should remain under the environment sector. By definition as well, mobility should mean transportation, communications, public highways, airports and seaports. Recreation is not usually considered as a basic need, but I think it is, and this should include parks, playgrounds, gymnasia, zoos, swimming pools, libraries and cultural centers.

The livelihood sector is so important by itself, such that it should be directly handled by the “Prime Minister” himself. Departing from the traditional approach of governance, the new livelihood sector should now integrate economic planning, trade, industry, cooperatives, micro-lending concerns, as well as labor and employment.

In my experience as a consultant of the Makati City Government, I have observed that investors and locators alike look for the availability of all public services in all the sectors, because all these factors have a direct bearing on the success or failure of their businesses. In other words, while the delivery of services to the public should still be the top priority of the local governments, these very same services also serve as a magnet to the companies that are looking for locations; hence it is like shooting two birds with one stone. After all that is said and done, the bottom line of all of these should be the attainment of peace and development in the long run, and towards that end, poverty reduction should be an unavoidable target, and mind you, I do not simply mean poverty alleviation as we know it now.


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