Shared prosperity in 2015 and beyond

By Jobers R. Bersales December 31,2014

Sixteen steps, 10 agencies, 34 days and 17 percent of a Filipino’s average annual income. That is how much it costs to set up a business, big or small, in the Philippines. In Malaysia, it only takes three steps, six days and costs seven percent.

It is small wonder, therefore, that despite six percent average growth of the Philippine economy for a decade now, the country still teems with the wretched poor, barely able to eke out a decent meal. This growth has not trickled down to the poor whose capacities to enter into commerce and trade are not only limited by fund sources but also by a large bureaucratic apparatus that, instead of encouraging micro and small businesses to start, seems to be doing the opposite.

“Start complaining about the problems you see and propose solutions to them,” advises the youthful Filipino senior economist at the World Bank, Dr. Karl Kendrick Chua. Chua, who was on the talk show “On the Money” aired two weeks ago on the ABS-CBN News Channel, adds, “Don’t add to the confusion of issues on social media. Instead, state the problem, research well and find solutions.”

Chua points to four areas that the government must immediately address so that the wealth locked in less than one percent of our total population of 100 million Filipinos will begin to be shared by all. First is a no-brainer: invest in infrastructure, health and education. According to Chua, traveling to and from work in Manila is like being taxed 18 percent of one’s time. The same is fast becoming a reality for those of us who live in Banilad, Talamban and beyond who have to go to downtown Cebu or Mandaue city, going through roads that seem to be under endless repair. Speaking of repair, I share the frustration of  everyone who does not see the logic of why the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) put up a center aisle on A.C. Cortes Avenue in Mandaue City, further narrowing this important artery leading to and from the all-important old or first Mandaue-Mactan bridge.

A second solution Chua proposes for  shared prosperity addresses the earlier mentioned problem with setting up any kind of legitimate business in this country: simplify regulations  to help micro and small businesses. This also means making it easier to pay taxes and not go through long lines.

A third one is the enhancement of competition for better quality and at a lower price. Again, a no-brainer just as the fourth and last one: protect property rights. For those who already own businesses, Chua urges you, and I agree wholeheartedly, to treat your workers right. Give them what is their due.

One problem we Filipinos have that Chua hinted about is, unfortunately, also a kind of strength: We can get by with so little and we laugh at our predicament. Thus one sees interview upon interview of Filipinos stranded at airports or seaports during the holiday season seemingly complaining about the long queues but laughing or smiling at the same time.

This cannot go on. We have to start grumbling about  why despite the taxes we pay (at least for us who pay taxes diligently), we get lousy service and endless repairs and more repairs of roads that would otherwise have been finished overnight in other countries.

I therefore share with everyone the hope that 2015 will usher in  times when prosperity among the top one percent of our population will finally begin to trickle down to the poorest of the poor.

So start complaining, but at the same time provide solutions. Happy New Year to all of us!

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