Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Public-private partnership

Public-private partnership
By Ernesto Hilario
Business Mirror, Opinion
August 16, 2010

That the Philippines will be unable to meet the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals, particularly primary education for all and improved access to maternal health, isn’t surprising. The warning comes from the top UN official in the country, and it’s based on the fact that poverty incidence in the Philippines has even increased, from 30 percent in 2003 to 33 percent in 2006. I doubt if the poverty level has gone down in the last four years of the Arroyo administration.

While the government has the primary responsibility to look after the welfare of those who live on the margins of society, it simply cannot do the job alone. The best efforts of the government in reducing poverty have not been good enough, because systemic corruption keeps already- scarce resources from reaching those who need help the most.

I worked for a nongovernment organization (NGO) network in the early 1990s and we launched socio-economic projects in the different regions, although on a very limited scale. Our projects were funded mostly by foreign donors. The Philippine NGO community prided itself on being the most dynamic during that time; I don’t know if that distinction is true until today. But on hindsight, I don’t think we made even a dent on the poverty level. We emphasized the empowerment of the poor so that they can take firm steps toward standing on their own two feet. But you can only do so much when resources are very limited and you’re working under an ideological framework that frowned on piecemeal socioeconomic reforms.

With the NGO sector hobbled by economic and political constraints, it is the private sector that’s in a better position to help the government fight poverty. Foundations belonging to the Philippine Business for Social Progress and other similar groups have been able to launch bigger socioeconomic projects because of corporate support. But I hope the top 1,000 corporations would allocate a higher percentage of their annual income to social-development projects.

The government, business and civil-society groups must unite and grapple with the problem of poverty. While it is correct to exert pressure on the government to do everything possible to combat poverty, the private sector and civil society must share the burden. To uplift the poor from wretched conditions and abolish absolute poverty in this country in the near future, we need to forge a strong public-private partnership.