Focus on competence
While addressing corruption is praiseworthy, also focusing on competence will have more impact. This is especially true for agriculture. While annual industry growth averaged 6.6 percent from 2011 to 2019, agriculture grew by only 1.4 percent. The main factor that caused this is not corruption, but incompetence.
Here is an example of the impact of corruption compared to competence. In 2019, the elimination of the rice smuggling corruption would have had an impact of P2 billion in savings. But with the appropriate competence of providing an accompanying safeguard to the rice tariffication law, the impact would have been a P60-billion farmer savings, or 30 times as much.
A business tycoon was asked about corruption and competence in government. He responded: “If my house was burning and you asked me to choose between a competent corrupt fireman and an honest incompetent one, whom would I choose? The answer is obvious.”
Two weeks ago, Arsenio Tanchuling, president of Alyansa Agrikultura with 32 federations and organizations covering agriculture and fisheries sectors, wrote that he had never seen our agriculture deteriorating as badly as today. He cited five major agriculture subsectors, where it was competence that was the major factor in the decline.
For rice, farmers earned half their net income in 2019 compared to 2018. This was because the temporary safeguard measure of raising the effective tariff rate was not competently provided. This would have prevented the flood of cheap rice imports, and enabled our farmers to survive and adjust to the new tariff regime.
Government officials did a disservice to President Duterte when he said publicly twice that he would ban rice imports, but then twice retracted. Competent officials should have provided the President with the safeguard measure that would have moderated rice imports, which other countries do.
The farmers’ plight was similarly downplayed when a Cabinet official quoted a high palay price from two months earlier, when the price had already significantly declined. This price was also not competently gotten from a random sample that represented the majority of our farmers.
For corn, farmers at harvest time today get a P9 farm-gate price per kilo, which is less than their P12 cost of production. Competent management would have included a meeting between the producers and the users to jointly determine the amount and timing of imports. It is the same principle of allowing imports during harvest time that Sen. Cynthia Villar during her Oct. 28 Senate rice hearing berated a government official. She cited the need for competence and “common sense.”
For poultry, small poultry raisers are closing shop due to massive losses from subsidized imports. Officials denied their request for regulated importation, even though there were already 26 instances of such regulation from other countries recorded at the World Trade Organization. Worse, an official publicly accused poultry leaders of spreading fake news, when they had a video that proved they were telling the truth.
For swine, small hog raisers in Luzon have generally closed down because of the African swine fever (ASF). A government official sought an investigation on cartels because of the current very high prices. While this may be partly true, the real reason is the lack of quarantine facilities and competent systematic inspection, which caused the ASF spread in the first place.
Fisheries is our poorest sector because laws are not competently implemented. In many areas, the mandatory 15-kilometer distance from the coastline reserved for small fishers is not observed. Large commercial boats not only get the fish reserved for these small fishers, but also dangerously deplete the fish stock we need. Also, technical smuggling and labeling requirement violations are not penalized.
Tanchuling’s assertion that agriculture is quickly deteriorating at a pace never seen before should not be dismissed outright. Instead, added to corruption should be a thorough investigation on competence. We should not blame a Cabinet official for all these difficulties. He is constrained by incompetently crafted past policies, incompetent personnel he cannot remove because of political connections, and hesitation to argue with other departments that affect agriculture.
This is why Mr. Duterte, in his remaining two years, should also focus on competence that has a bigger impact than corruption on our people’s welfare. He had previously delegated his meeting on competence with five coalition heads that compose the Agrifisheries Alliance (AFA) to one Cabinet official. Though this official has done a good job with monthly progress reports, not enough has been achieved to arrest agriculture deterioration.
This is why a meeting with the President on competence is now badly needed. AFA heads do not have the resources of the rich businessmen whom the President often meets but they have the necessary qualifications. One is a national scientist and former University of the Philippines president, another is the six-term president of the largest agriculture export federation, and the other is a globally experienced sector president equipped with a Yale University graduate degree with a summa cum laude average.
Our President must now give priority to addressing competence, not just corruption. After all, it has the larger impact.
The author is Agriwatch chair, former Secretary of Presidential programs and Projects, and former Undersecretary of DA AND DTI. Contact is [email protected]
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