To join the economic cluster of the Cabinet is to become a travelling salesman.
Membership in that team means one must travel tens of thousands of miles a year to attract billions in investments, or to borrow money in the billions.
A Finance secretary hawks bonds here and abroad by hailing our solid fundamentals and sound future before any group that will lend him money, or at least their ears.
The NEDA chief goes on a speaking tour, repeating the mantra “build, build, build,” never mind if such is hamstrung by the failure of many agencies to bid, bid, bid.
The Budget secretary joins in the act by flaunting numbers to show how scrupulous we are in our spending, or underspending.
And who is the Trade secretary but an ambulant peddler of investment opportunities?
To put our nation on the road to prosperity, our economic managers have to be constantly on the road.
This good news chorus also takes their roadshow abroad.
There’s the annual pilgrimage to Washington DC, where they submit the country’s report card to the IMF and the World Bank.
Other regular stops are in the land of the Euro, the home of the Yen, and the capital of the mighty Yuan.
Add to these the half-dozen must-go-to conferences, like the annual meeting of the ADB Board of Governors, the ASEAN leaders’ meeting, and the APEC summit where their huddle with fellow money men serve as curtain raisers for the traditional “class picture” of their principals.
In spreading the gospel of prosperity, they do local tours as well. The Philippine Development Forum is a multi-city act where they brag about good economic numbers.
Despite their nomadic wandering, they only make one stop in each house of Congress a year. This when next year’s budget is presented, where, as members of the Development and Budget Coordinating Council, they are obliged to justify the request.
They may return during the time when the budget is debated on the floor but not as presenters but to backstop the sponsors of the proposed budget.
Oh, they appear during the SONA too, where we hear them loud and clear, when they perform their roles with glee as members of the applause brigade.
So in short, while economic managers will go to the ends of the earth to look for loans and aid, they’re made to appear before representatives of the people, the very ones who will pay the debts they will package, only once a year, but only in connection with the national budget.
The bill I have filed, Mr. President, calls for their mandatory twice-a-year appearance before each house of Congress to report on the state of our economy.
The first appearance in March will dwell on past years’ performance. The second one in September will assess the first semester gone by. Both will provide outlooks for the rest of the year.
It is not a heavy imposition because not all of the economic managers will appear, but only the Secretary of Finance, the Governor of the Central Bank, the NEDA Director General, and the Secretary of the DBM.
But more important than where they will appear, and how they appear, is why they must.
First, let me make it clear that it is not because we are ignored, but because we want to be informed and we want to be involved.
We are not begging for attention—what we are asking for is the fair right of the public, through their elective representatives, to be informed on policies that impact on their lives.
Fiscal and monetary topics are not sexy issues that attract attention or elevate the national blood pressure.
These are topics which don’t agitate the trolls. These are boring themes which don’t attract Facebook likes.
But if we want to know the national picture and direction, we won’t find them in fiery prose, but in cold numbers.
Because in the dashboard of national indicators, none are more important than the figures that show the health of our economy.
These are the very things the Finance secretary and the BSP governor can tell us.
Statistics on the consolidated public sector financial position. Our national debt. Our revenue sources.
Monetary aggregates and their components. Balance of payments. Our trade. Inflation. Imports. Our dollar reserves. Investments.
On the expenditure side, we’d like to know if taxes paid in cash by the people are rebated to them in kind and in a manner that is fast and fair. Allocations. Obligations.
From NEDA, we’d like to get the overall growth picture on employment, poverty, sectoral performances, as well as regional snapshots. And if they’ve learned to count the Gross National Happiness by then, we’ll be happy to share the results with the Tinder generation.
Are the needles on these gauges moving, and to where?
I admit that these concepts may be alien to the magbabalut, or would sound like Martian language to the man on the street.
But these are the things that are really important. These are the numbers that matter, against which government’s performance must be primarily measured.
At present, the only tally we’re making concerns body bags. While there are important numbers to track, the national scoreboard shows only deaths.
We’ve been busy counting the invectives thrown by the President, but not the incentives needed to grow the economy and the number of jobs.
How can we start a serious national conversation on what must be done to turbocharge our economy, when this nerdy topic is boring to a people addicted to their daily supply of scandal?
When discourse is dominated by the salacious, the national DQ – or development quotient – of both the government and the governed suffers.
The reporting proposed in this bill goes beyond their authors’ appearance before Congress.
As important as the oral report are the written ones. These should be made accessible to the public, in a timely fashion.
I congratulate Senator Gatchalian for his labors in searching for win-win solutions to the many problems that ail our land.
I urge our colleagues to support this bill.
Thank you very much.