Thursday, November 15, 2012

Business groups raise 7 key issues

TO HELP address the country’s goal of achieving sustainable and inclusive growth, affiliated business organizations, including a 14-member coalition of business organizations in Cebu, sought to have President Benigno Aquino III pay attention to seven key issues they found necessary for attaining such goals. A letter signed by officials of the Makati, Cebu and Iloilo Business Clubs was sent to President Aquino through Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, who was the keynote speaker at yesterday’s second National Business Conference of Independent Business Clubs and Chambers. Read by Cebu Business Club president Gordon Alan Joseph, the letter expressed the group’s support for the Aquino administration’s efforts against corruption. “We would like to take this opportunity to present certain issues that we feel strongly about, and where we would greatly appreciate your support--issues which will help address everyone’s goals of sustainable and inclusive growth,” said Joseph. Consultations The seven points were arrived at after consultations with different business groups. These include greater participation in the global supply production network, support for MSMEs, the establishment of the Department of Information, Communication and Technology (DICT), public investment of resources in the regions, support for the Cebu tourism roadmap, reduction of cost and effort in doing business, and support for the regional development bodies. The group urged for greater participation of the Philippines in the global supply production network, particularly through the Asean Economic Community 2015, which is designed to make Asean a single market and production base, and a strong regional economic bloc in the global economy. “To achieve this, the government may wish to deepen the involvement of the business sector in creating a comprehensive action plan or roadmap to prepare the country and its stakeholders for regional economic integration and the forthcoming Asean Economic Community,” according to the letter read by Joseph. Support system The group noted that if the country wants to open up to larger participation in the global network, the government should establish a support system for Philippine industries and businesses to spur countryside development. They pointed out an urgent need for achievable financing, especially for rural entrepreneurs who want to supply importers and manufacturers. They asked for the “practical and urgent expansion” of financing programs for micro, small and medium-sized enterprises. “There are lending programs that exist in theory, but not in practice. The criteria for lending a stringent and beyond the reach of smaller companies and entrepreneurs.” They also expressed their support for the creation and implementation of industry roadmaps, a measure that the National Competitiveness Council is also pushing. As for the DICT, which has been approved on third reading in both houses of Congress, the group believes its creation will result in more focused work in developing and sustaining growth of the telecommunications and ICT sectors, which they consider two of the most dynamic sectors in the country. Sharing information The group also believes it will develop information sharing platforms critical to economic development. “The ICT department will not just be BPO-centric, but will also be key to achieving efficiency in the flow of information to and from the government and private sectors, and will be a tool to improve the efficiency of doing business in the Philippines.” The business sector has long bemoaned the lack of government data, some of which are not current. As for the need for public investment of resources in the regions, the group pointed out that the share to the total GDP of less-urbanized countries has not improved, but has been shrinking. “This leads us to conclude that there may be a need to review the structure and role of the Regional Development Councils who are tasked to undertake planning and recommend infrastructure programs, but who actually have little input as to whether a project will be implemented or not.” Joseph said that oftentimes, when RDC plans are approved, these are sent to the national office with little or no results. They asked the president to have a special focus on the Visayas and Mindanao in terms of public investment of resources. “Increased investments in the necessary and correct human and physical infrastructure will help drive regional progress and empower regions to increase their contribution to the country’s gross domestic product.” They sought to review and modify the decision-making criteria in identifying key projects, particularly in big-ticket infrastructure projects. These are seen to enable regions in competing and achieving potential in attaining higher GDPs. They said the criteria should include comprehensive planning by recognized technical experts and should consider measurable objectives as opposed to “projects planned and implemented only on the basis of political rationales.” Tourism revenues On the issue of tourism, the group requested the Aquino government to address the common carriers’ tax and other tax issues and the overtime pay of customs, quarantine and immigration personnel being shouldered by airlines flying to and from the Philippines, as well as the country’s status in the United States’ Federal Aviation Administration and the European Union, citing such issues as urgent. “We cannot maximize tourism revenues without tourists from North America and Europe–tourists who tend to stay longer in the country and consequently spend more for their holidays in relation to their Asian counterparts.” Joseph added that they hope the government will consider setting up a visa on arrival system in all international airports to ease the burden of Philippine embassies and help make the country more tourist-friendly. Business leaders deplored the country’s rankings in the World Bank-IFC’s ease of doing business, which ranked the Philippines at a low 138 and asked the government to increase immediate efforts to reduce the cost and process of doing business. They believe these are process-oriented improvements that are not difficult to change with political will and the implementation of laws. They also suggested decentralizing some processes for permits and licenses. They also request support for regional development bodies such as the Metro Cebu Development Coordinating Board, a public-private partnership composed of six business groups, a civil society group, 14 local government units and national government agencies. The letter was signed by Joseph, Makati Business Club executive director Peter Perfecto and Iloilo Business Club trustee Herminio Maravilla.