Good Governance and Responsible Citizenship: An Interview

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  • Free Enterprise and Democracy Network (FEDN) member Dr. Jesus P. Estanislao, President of the Institute for Corporate Directors and the Institute for Solidarity in Asia, discusses his personal experiences with strengthening democracy through market-oriented reform.

For more than 25 years, CIPE has built strong relationships and programs with economic reformers around the world. Still, global forums on democratic development lack a concerted voice for the private sector and economic freedom. Realizing the need to express how democracy and a free market economy act as mutually supportive systems, CIPE has joined with leaders from business and civil society to create the Free Enterprise and Democracy Network (FEDN). FEDN’s main objective is to advocate globally and regionally for economic reform as an integral element of democratic development, as well as to serve as a forum for likeminded reformers to share ideas and best practices.

FEDN member Dr. Jesus P. Estanislao, President of the Institute for Corporate Directors and the Institute for Solidarity in Asia, discusses his personal experiences with strengthening democracy through market-oriented reform.

1. “What does democracy mean to you?”

Democracy means open opportunities for all, who share in the responsibility for promoting the common good of the community, and therefore of all the people. It means opening the doors of opportunity so everyone is given the chance to develop all the talents they have and to use, with social responsibility, the freedoms they enjoy. It means promoting the personal dignity of every individual, whose rights are duly respected, and who are at the same time asked to live up to their duties out of a sense of fairness and solidarity with others. It means participation in the common effort to improve the welfare of all and in the enjoyment of the fruits of progress, based upon productivity, creativity, the spirit of enterprise and innovation. It means strengthening and further developing economic and political institutions, which abide by the basic governance principles of fairness, transparency, accountability, and responsibility

2. “Are economic freedom and the private sector crucial to a democracy?”

Economic and political freedoms belong to the essence of a genuine democracy. Only in and through economic freedom can we ensure that economic society is open, competitive, fair, and distributes the fruits of progress equitably. It is the best guarantee against the abuse of monopoly power, against protectionism for selfish, narrow advantage, against rent-seeking and other extractive economic activities. It is the most effective prod towards innovation, creative destruction, higher productivity, greater variety of choices, and high quality of service to customers and all the other economic stakeholders. Only in and through political freedom can an effective demand be made for public accountability for those who exercise public authority. It is the best anti-dote against the abuse of political power and the use of public discretion for merely personal gain even at the expense of the common good and the public welfare.

Through its system of checks and balances and its insistence on the rule of law, with due respect for private property and the enforcement of contracts, it promotes the formation of multi-sector coalitions for public causes and other advocacies for the genuine development of people and the continuing re-orientation of institutions towards inclusive and sustainable growth.

Democracy not only promises, but also delivers all that economic and political freedom helps to secure and promote. Democracy can deliver its promises more effectively by striking a proper balance between government, vested with the authority and powers to secure the public welfare, and the private sector, laden with the responsibility of taking free and responsible initiatives in wealth-creation as well as in social welfare-promotion.

3. “What is your advocacy and why are you undertaking it?”

My advocacy is good governance: corporate governance in the business sector; public governance in the government sector; family governance for families; school governance for school institutions; and personal governance for individuals. At the end of the day, it is governance at the personal level that makes a vital difference. But the family and the school are two crucial social institutions, which teach and transmit the proper governance values. And it is in enterprises as well as in the government where governance takes on more specific, concrete flesh and substance in a manner that affects the economy and society directly. There is need for consistency and mutual support between all these players: starting with individuals, and ending with big business enterprises and the government. Good governance at all these levels needs to reinforce each other: there has to be greater alignment in the governance values and practices from the top down, and from the bottom up for much greater effectiveness and longer-term sustainability.

4. “What example of meaningful change in which you participated?”

Together with many other civic-minded Filipinos, I participated in the long process of transition from a dictatorship to a democracy. There has been a long struggle for political freedom: regular, free, meaningful elections; respect for basic human rights; accountable government; limits to public discretion on the part of public officials; proper and efficient use of public resources. After our democratic institutions were re-established, the basic question became, “how do you make them work in the way they are supposed to work, for the benefit of all the people? Even as the question is being answered, little by little, it remains, and it continues to pose a challenge. It is for this reason that I continue to be an advocate of good public governance. Having been given an opportunity to influence public economic policy, I worked strongly with others for economic liberalization: removing monopolies; demanding accountability from state corporations; removing as many barriers to entry and competition as our constitutional space would allow; freeing up markets, including the foreign exchange market; opening up sectors to all investors, including foreign investors; simplifying and significantly reducing tariffs; and promoting the tax effort to a level where prudent fiscal ratios can be observed, even as government expenditures, particularly in public investment, continue to rise. I also worked hard to bring the Philippines back to international financial markets, where it now enjoys “investment grade” status. The fight for economic freedom is never fully won. It is for this reason that I continue to be an advocate of good corporate governance.

“ ‘Good governance and responsible citizenship’: this is the tagline I use for my advocacy ... and to which I am deeply committed.”

5. “What can others take from your experience? What advice can you give reformers?”

We recognize that every reform environment is different. Not one size fits all. Not all reform efforts are the same: reformers need to take into account the broader environment and wider context within which reforms can be pursued effectively. However, it is clear from our experience that reforms, to succeed, would need a coalition from business, civil society, and even within government. There are generally significant reform groups in each these sectors. How to create networks, find common ground, agree on tactics, and assign responsibilities to the different members of the network: these issues need to be answered differently, depending on actual facts on the ground. It is also clear that reforms take time. We need to take a long-term view. The important thing is to take concrete steps and aim at scoring some wins. There will be some wins and losses. For as long as we are clear on the direction we should be taking over the long haul, we should endure the temporary losses, even as we continuously look for other ways and means to keep moving forward. The advice, then, is straightforward: patience along with persistence. And reformers should not forget to be street-smart with respect to tactics. It also helps to pray, because reformers need the help of angels to guide and guard them.

6. “What is your vision for the future? What is it you look forward to?”

The vision that I have for my country is: by 2030, we shall be one nation, under God, of Filipinos who truly love their country. We still have to become “one nation.” The differences will be there: language groups; racial origin; religious creed, etc. Nonetheless, the common ingredient that should bind us together is the effective love we show — with our day-to-day deeds — for the country and the people, whom we must continue to develop. Thus, a greater focus on what is good for the country, and greater willingness to sacrifice self-interest for the common good of all. I am conscious that the common ingredient that helps us transcend the many differences we find among ourselves is our common faith in a God, the source and inspiration of all the values we profess as we go about adhering to the standards of good governance and responsible citizenship.

Jesus P. Estanislao was the 4th Socio-economic Planning Secretary and concurrent Director- General of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) from 1989-1990 and Secretary of Finance of the Philippines from 1990-1992, during the government of President Corazon Aquino. He presently heads the Institute for Solidarity in Asia and the Institute of Corporate Directors, both committed to governance reforms.

The views expressed by the author are his own and do not necessarily represent the views of the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE). CIPE grants permission to reprint, translate, and/or publish original articles from its Economic Reform Feature Service provided that (1) proper attribution is given to the original author and to CIPE and (2) CIPE is notified where the article is placed and a copy is provided to CIPE’s Washington office.

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