Friday, January 22, 2010

Noynoy vows clean gov't, level playing field for biz


A level playing field, a streamlined process for business transactions, and strong political will to stamp corruption and rebuild the country's damaged institutions.

Presidential bet Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III made these promises to the business community on Thursday, saying the May elections will be a test of the strength of the political institutions of a "fledgling democracy" like the Philippines.

"With the electoral scandals that have stalled our democratic progress as of late, it is not a test that we can afford to fail," he told about 450 members of the influential Makati Business Club (MBC) at the Peninsula Manila Hotel in Makati.

The son of the late President Corazon Aquino said he would encourage free and fair competition, adding that one need not be a crony of his administration to succeed in business.

"More importantly, the government will not compete with business. Nor will government use its regulatory powers to extort, intimidate and harass," he told the businessmen.

Aquino also promised not to impose new taxes and increase tax rates.

As a forum, the Makati Business Club, which comprises more than 800 chief executive officers and senior executives representing about 450 corporations in the Philippines, seeks to address economic and social issues that affect the country's development.

MBC Executive Director Albert Lim said Aquino is "one of the better candidates" given his track record in good governance.

"If there's anybody who we can believe, I think he has the track record. The lack of evidence or even hint of corruption makes him a good candidate… If it's a question of character, that's his strong suit," he said in an interview.

In his speech, Aquino said there is a widespread perception that success in business depends a lot on one's connections to the powers-that-be.

Because of this, he said, some companies are forced to focus their activities on maintaining relationships to retain state favors.

"While it may work locally for now, it has not enabled these players to become competitive in the world market, where the rules of the game do not take special relationships into consideration," Aquino said.

He promised to encourage "free and fair competition" and streamline the approval process not only for new enterprises but also in day-to-day transactions with the government, including tax payments. "We will do this on a national as well as the local level."

Fiscal strategy

Aquino said good governance and the drive against corruption will be critical components of his strategy to address the looming fiscal crisis.

Instead of imposing new taxes or hiking tax rates, his administration would rather curb and punish tax evasion and smuggling.

"My vision is to transform our country into one where we have lower tax rates enjoyed by all, rather than have some enjoy absolute tax exemptions while we burden the rest of the economy with very high tax rates," Aquino said.

He also noted that with universally low tax rates, the government will encourage enterprises to invest and create jobs. "We will, therefore, pursue the rationalization of fiscal incentives early in my administration," he added.

Aquino cited the need to transform infrastructure projects from sources of waste and scandal into examples of cooperation and efficiency.

He promised to set objective criteria for projects and develop a scorecard that will assess these against benchmarks transparent to the public.

"We are a nation of sacrifice, of diligence, dedication and idealism, because we are a people imbued with compassion even when we have officials who lie, cheat, and steal," Aquino said.

He also boasted of his job as a fiscalizer in both Houses of Congress, having played a major role in probing the fertilizer scam, the allegedly anomalous national broadband network deal, as well as in pushing the impeachment of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

MBC's Lim said good governance is the "overarching solution" to the country's age-old problems. Aquino's promises, he said, were very simple, adding that he had given straightforward answers.

A survey of MBC members last month showed that Aquino was their top pick for President, getting 61 percent of their votes. The businessmen also said corruption was the top issue (79 percent) that the next administration should address, followed by peace and order (35 percent) and infrastructure (24 percent). — Norman P. Aquino/YA, GMANews.TV

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