Who’s afraid of the private sector?


Though most in government generously devote their lives to provide us with valuable benefits, there is a small but powerful minority that is afraid of the private sector. They are the corrupt, the incompetent and the insecure—in that order. The result is poor transparency and even poorer governance. The new administration must stop this. Otherwise, its promise of a better future will be an empty one.

For disclosure purposes, I have been in the private sector as a president of national and international organizations, as well as in the public sector as Secretary or Undersecretary in three government units—the Department of Agriculture (DA), the Department of Trade and Industry and the Office of the President.

Three ‘demons’These three groups in government hide the truth from the private sector. The corrupt want to deceive so they will not get caught. The incompetent disguise their lack of ability so that they can progress undeservedly in their jobs. The insecure are not humble or wise enough to acknowledge their weaknesses and benefit from other people’s strengths.

The delay in the Senate ratification of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is primarily caused not by agriculture, but by government officials who are afraid of the private sector.

The RCEP appears beneficial to industry and services, but detrimental to agriculture. This is because the private sector agriculture stakeholders were stopped from contributing to the RCEP negotiations. Since it is too late for amendments and the RCEP must either be accepted or rejected, the RCEP decision must now be made on the basis of net benefit to our people. However, specific conditions must first be met to minimize the unfair damage to agriculture. This could have been prevented by government officials who feared private sector engagement.

Three conditions

The first condition is to start competing with imported products by increasing the 1.7-percent agriculture share of our national budget, closer to Vietnam’s 6.5 percent and Thailand’s 3.6 percent shares. However, a larger budget is not meaningful if much of it is lost to corruption. The 2020 Commission on Audit report documented a staggering P22 billion in unliquidated fund releases. The solution is to restore the public-private DA budget monitoring committee. Both this and the international trade committee were abolished at the same time because of fear of private sector involvement.

The second condition is to also restore the high-level public-private oversight committee against smuggling which reported to the president. Its monthly meetings with the Bureau of Customs (BOC) ensured that BOC activities were monitored, complaints addressed and private sector recommendations implemented. This resulted in a 25-percent and 31-percent smuggling rate decrease in two separate periods, but was abolished allegedly because it was too successful. Now that the previous transparency and accountability are gone, more smuggling from more RCEP-generated imports is expected.

The third condition is to follow what Vietnam successfully did during its World Trade Organization accession. We must likewise identify the RCEP threats and corresponding actions for our most vulnerable agriculture subsectors. One month after 83 organizations and 21 agriculture leaders signed a letter to the Senate strongly disputing the DA assertion that RCEP posed no threats and therefore needed no preparatory measures, DA has not called even one of them.

It is time that this misplaced fear of the private sector be transformed into active engagement. This will improve the new administration’s credibility, hasten RCEP ratification and give agriculture the justice it has long been deprived of.

The author is Agriwatch chair, former Secretary of Presidential flagship programs and projects, and former DA and DTI Undersecretary. Contact [email protected]

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