[OPINION] Iloilo is on track for economic recovery but it lacks synergy

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Two of Iloilo’s business executives were guests in an episode of IMT Conversations: Lea Lara of the Iloilo Business Club (IBC) and Francis Gentoral of the Iloilo Local Economic Development Foundation (ILED). 

The two executive directors of their respective groups offered an inroad which led to a better understanding of the prevailing sentiment of the business sector six months under the pandemic. 

The discussion served like a thermometer for it gauged the temperature or the level of fever of the business community if only to make sense of where the local economy is heading. 

The business fever is 40°C and rising. The diagnosis have revealed that the fever is far from being asymptomatic. In fact, it is widespread at 40°C if taken from the description of Lea Lara when she said that the “local business community is badly hit” and we might be in for the worst. 

The production side has barely recovered six months after the lockdown and the supply chain remains heavily impacted by intermittent quarantine measures imposed by the Inter-Agency Task Force and mirrored by local governments’ restrictions, including border control.

These regulatory realities has a ripple effect on consumer behavior considering limited transfer of consumable materials from one point to another. Even goods arriving supermarkets have to undergo rigid inspection and disinfection protocols to ensure the safety of end-users. We are aware that restos has to contend with a reduced capacity and with a limited list to offer from the menu because of production and supply chain issues, and health protocols.

“Nobody was prepared for the pandemic,” said Lara and since there is no vaccine yet, the business sector is hanging on a thin rope with discontinued enterprises, closure of business, and job losses. 

Health and economy response has yet to find a balance. Recovery plans are at hand for the revival of the local economy from both sides: the government and the private sector; but how these plans will be executed with effectiveness is a good question which was raised by ILED’s Francis Gentoral. 

Economic recovery brings up an overarching concern and these are financial capability, technical ability, and leadership and governance competency. 

The Province and the City of Iloilo holds a recovery plan but how these plans can be implemented swiftly, with flexibility considering protocols, and with transparency and accountability from the local leadership remains unclear.

Government efforts are heavily focused on health response. While this is understandable because we are on a health crisis, local political leaders have yet to find a balance between health and economic recovery. The sectors involved needs to find a “nexus between health and economy,” or a trade-off as described by Gentoral, so that the economic recovery agenda can move forward side-by-side institutionalization of health protocols in doing business. 

The stimulus package requires multiple component. The government has extended grants through various national agencies and support were also extended by the LGU and private sector on the affected segments of society. Stimulus package, however, needs a “non-financial component,” emphasized Lea Lara.

These non-financial component, she explained, is needed by business, especially MSMEs, like “loan extensions, rent discounts, tax credits, and relief for displaced workers.” Economic stimulus effort at the LGU level needs to have a complementary non-financial component support for local business and workers if they intend to move the economy. 

Synergy between government and private sector is needed. Moving the economy forward requires that our “understanding of the problem are all aligned,” said Gentoral. A common understanding of the problem is essential if only to attain a unified next steps and for solutions to be beneficial for those who were affected. 

“There are many activities that are being conducted by various government agencies,” Gentoral stressed, “but are these activities really address the problems and provide solutions to those who are affected?” A brilliant question.

Does economic recovery efforts really harness the energy of solution holders at the local level? The government employed a “whole of government” approach, but a whole of society approach might be the appropriate one if we intend to respond with inclusivity in mind. 

A synergy between various actors who are playing a role in the economic recovery is needed, because there is no “one-size-fits-all” response. Lea Lara explained that the crisis delivered uneven impacts across the various player of business sector. Government’s response needs to factor-in the disproportionate distribution of impacts to come up with a tailored response formula for a particular enterprise. A uniformly prescribed action will only prove a waste of time and resources.

Gentoral also highlighted an important point: consumer side confidence building effort is lacking. This is a clear manifestation of a gap in the economic response and recovery loop and it emphasizes a disjointed coordination system between government and the private sector leaders. 

Government and the private sector needs to sit down to have a synergistic interaction so that efforts are harmonized and resources are used effectively. 

Transparency and accountability mechanisms must be distinguishable. Francis Gentoral brought up a last significant element of economic recovery – the issue of transparency and accountability as a leadership and governance requirement for effective delivery of response services.

“Transparency and accountability,” explained Gentoral is “important in building the trust of the public.” This is a period wherein we need “servant leaders” across different sectors, Gentoral said. 

I believe that the public must be vigilant when it comes to transparency and accountability considering that local political leaders are struggling to establish their leadership relevance in the fight against the pandemic on the road to 2022 elections. 

There are many observable “red flags” on the manner that key political leaders in Iloilo are handling the crisis. The weak external harmony is only a reflection of a deficient synergy between various departments under their administration, and between LGUs and other government agencies. Transparency and accountability is an aspect worth examining if only to explain why economic recovery efforts lack the needed synergy. 

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