Do you feel the effects of a stronger, more progressive economy? If yes, then you are among the few lucky ones. Economic growth that is unaccompanied by an explosion of new jobs and better incomes would be intangible to ordinary folks, many of who find it hard to keep financially afloat.
It is a struggle between debt and survival, especially for minimum wage earners and contractual workers. One must add to this category those who are unemployed and underemployed, not because they are unwilling to work but because they are over-aged or too short or with a personality that is not pleasing enough.
The comparative data of the International Labor Organization shows that the Philippines has the highest unemployment rate among ASEAN countries. This is a wake-up call for the government and the private sector especially as we expect ASEAN economic integration to lift off next year. This would mean lower tariffs for products and services as agreed upon by ASEAN countries.
As of today, it is only the government that can unlock job opportunities in the countryside by launching a nationwide massive labor-intensive public works and tourism development program. It can also invest in the creation of more cottage industries at the grassroots level in partnership with high-performing local governments. Cottage industries are small and medium enterprises that can hire ten or less workers to produce local goods and delicacies for local and overseas markets. As we approach the middle of the year, these micro enterprises can start thinking and planning about penetrating and dominating the traditionally robust Christmas market.
We have to be creative as a nation in thinking about inclusive growth. One major shortcoming of government is being exclusive about its own planning and programmatic processes. Government tends to talk to itself, and then expects the public to be in on the conversation from the very start. Although this administration prides itself for being tech-savvy and indeed, it has been from Day 1 quite comfortable in social media – – the truth is that it has failed to tap social media for broad conversations about national aspirations and future goals.
Inclusive growth cannot take place in an exclusive society where the rich talk amongst themselves and government thinks, plans, and holds conversations only with itself or with groups that are in its comfort zone. President Aquino is an excellent communicator especially when he does plain talk in the native tongue. But the bureaucracy has not always been that straightforward or as accessible, communications-wise. This has to change. Inclusivity means getting more people involved in a productive way, empowering them through the gift of self-reliance. How can one be self-reliant when he or she can’t even get to work on time because of inefficiencies in how the MRT and LRT are run?
I suggest that the government creates a composite team to go around the country and ferret out ideas on what is inclusive growth and what kind of policies and programs would hasten its realization. The team can be composed of an economist, a market vendor, an engineer, and a member of the academe. This team can directly report to Secretary Rene Almendras in his capacity as Secretary of the Cabinet.
What has technocrats done to define and bring about inclusive growth? Not much, if we go by current labor indicators. So why not give the task to the citizens since the people in this administration will not be around forever? The ideas that can surface from such interactive yet focused community-based discussions may yet astound us given the folksy way of thinking of our people.
We all must be happy that the economy is indeed growing and that the government has been trying to do its best to stay on the straight and narrow path. With less than two years to go, I suggest that the Aquino administration go back to basics, and in keeping with the President’s style, reach out to the common folk so that we can all get behind the national quest for inclusive growth.
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Panorama Link: Inclusive growth