The Philippines as model

The author is the coordinator of the Action for Economic Reforms.

An international event that the Philippine media have inadvertently
downplayed is the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) taking
place in Johannesburg, South Africa. The summit gathers the heads of
states and governments to commit action-oriented plans that will
hopefully speed up the implementation of the global agenda to reduce
poverty, improve human development, and protect the environment. The
summit is inclusive since leaders of civil society organizations and
the business sector are participating.

The Johannesburg Summit attempts to broaden and consolidate the gains
from previous international conferences. One of its essential reference
points is the 1992 Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit for it marks the
integration into one overarching framework the economic, social and
environmental dimensions of development. The Johannesburg Summit
likewise follows up the International Conference on Financing for
Development (ICFD), held in Monterrey, Mexico in March 2002.

Billed during its buildup as the “mother of all summits,” the ICFD
aimed to develop and formulate recommendations towards mobilizing
global and domestic resources to finance development. The main themes
tackled by the ICFD included domestic resource mobilization, private
capital flows, international trade, official development assistance,
external debt, and systemic issues. Regrettably, the ICFD came to pass
with a soft impact.

In the Philippines, the ICFD became headline news only because of the
diplomatic row between Mexico and the Philippines. This arose from the
shabby treatment that Vice-President Teofisto Guingona received, having
being unceremoniously ejected from a formal dinner for heads of states
or their representatives. And globally, what caught the media’s fancy
was the early exit of Cuba’s Fidel Castro from the conference,
apparently upon the “request” of the pro-US Mexican government, which
was but acting on behalf of the George W. Bush administration.

The ICFD was a significant event for the many developing countries that
have been suffering from skewed global rules, decline in official
development assistance (ODA), and vulnerability to
globalization-induced shocks. For the developed countries, the ICFD was
seen as a mechanism to press for their favorite themes such as domestic
reforms, anti-corruption, human rights and good governance.

But the ICFD results were mixed. The official line treated the ICFD as
a success, for it addressed the major concerns, namely the decline in
ODA to developing countries, the collaboration between the United
Nations System and the Bretton Woods Institutions, and the exploration
of new public and private resources to finance development.

Civil society organizations, however, were critical. They thought the
final document had numerous tentative and vague formulations. They
likewise lambasted a few developed countries led by the United States
for mothballing the bold proposals such as deeper debt relief and the
introduction of a currency transaction tax. Arguably, the increase in
ODA was the most concrete gain for developing countries. But even this
was bound to happen, ICFD or not. For instance, the US increased its
ODA not because of the ICFD but in response to 9-11 and the war against
terrorism.
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The International Conference on Financing for Development (ICFD)
process and outcome show that the gaps and contradictions are
plentiful, and they impede the realization of the international targets
on sustainable development. The Johannesburg Summit provides another
opportunity to tackle the unresolved issues.

The Government of the Philippines has firmed up its basic position for
the Johannesburg Summit. Its position is aligned with the
recommendations and demands of developing countries, which form the
Group of 77 bloc. The Philippines supports the creation of the World
Solidarity Fund to finance poverty reduction programs. It likewise
proposes expanded debt relief or debt cancellation, which should not
compromise ODA. Moreover, it joins the majority of countries in
endorsing the ratification and implementation of protocols and
conventions on climate change, chemicals and waste, and biodiversity.

It is also to government’s credit that it has maintained its
collaboration with civil society and the private sector toward the
formulation of the Philippine official position. The partnership of
government, civil society and the private sector in relation to the
ICFD provides us some lessons worth citing. In fact, such Philippine
partnership has become a global best practice.

We can cite six lessons with regard to the partnership of government, civil society and the private sector:

Identify the global-national nexus. Collaboration on what is primarily
an international issue must be linked to specific national concerns.
With regard to ICFD, civil society and business sector interest was
significantly motivated by the desire to tackle urgent national issues.
The different stakeholders viewed the ICFD process as an opportunity to
develop a national reform agenda on public finance and financial
regulation. The push for reforms was all the more compelling in light
of the fiscal crisis.

Find a catalyst. Someone must initiate and set in motion the process of
partnership. The relationship between government and civil society has
been adversarial. Nongovernmental organizations, too, are suspicious of
big business and vice versa. Thus, an independent party “acceptable to
all sides” has to intervene for the process to move forward. In this
case, the Philippine office of the United Nations Development Programme
(UNDP) served as facilitator and catalyst. It set up the meetings and
provided the resources for the partnership to take place.

Emphasize the areas of convergence or congruence. The product of the
partnership was the Philippine Country Paper. The paper, written by
Mario Lamberte of the Philippine Institute for Development Studies
(PIDS), incorporated and distilled the analyses and recommendations of
the different stakeholders. As Mr. Lamberte pointed out, the main
concern was to find the convergence, not necessarily negotiate a
consensus, which was more difficult to attain. Be that as it may, the
convergence was quite broad – fiscal reforms to increase revenues,
financial sector reform, fighting graft and corruption, regulation of
capital flows, fairer global rules, etc.

Surface the differences. By being open and transparent about the
differences, the stakeholders would be able to conduct a more sober and
intelligent debate towards achieving greater coherence. The Country
Paper on the ICFD did not shirk from identifying the divergence of
positions. For instance, although everyone was united on fiscal
reforms, a part of government (the Department of Trade and Industry)
was not in favor of reducing the fiscal incentives. And while there was
broad agreement on the regulation of volatile short-term investments,
the private sector objected to the use of capital controls.

Concretize the recommendations. Apart from identifying the points of
unity and the differences, the partnership also took steps to write the
substantive intervention of the Philippine delegation to the ICFD. The
output was a paper and a matrix that contained the Philippine comments
on and amendments to the official ICFD documents.

The process is important. The different parties organized a series of
consultations to exchange views, draft their position papers, and
debate and approve the common Country Paper. Apart from the separate
consultations and seminars conducted by each partner, the government of
the Philippines, civil society, and the private sector jointly
sponsored two forums. Such interaction ensured the coming out of the
Country Paper, said to be the only official document in the ICFD that
was the product of the partnership of government, civil society and the
private sector.

While we realize that such broad “tripartite” partnership and its
attendant processes can be tedious and difficult, we believe that the
lessons they give and the progress that they will ultimately bring are
well worth the effort. We therefore hope that our experience in such
partnership will be further enriched as the Philippines ventures to set
the example in promoting robust partnerships for sustainable
development.

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