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PHL should focus on closing digital gap, upskilling workers

By Arjay L. Balinbin, Senior Reporter

IN ORDER TO “build back better” from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the Philippines should focus on closing the digital gap, upgrading the education curricula, upskilling workers, and expanding investments in research and development, according to a new report by the World Economic Forum (WEF).

The WEF released a special edition of its annual Global Competitiveness Report, which assessed the recovery prospects of 37 countries and provided policy recommendations. The WEF suspended the Global Competitiveness Index rankings this year “due to extraordinary response measures taken by governments following the global pandemic outbreak and economic recession.”

The Makati Business Club said in a statement that the Philippines is not among the 37 countries assessed in the latest WEF report due to limited data.

In its report, the WEF said that while “no country is fully equipped for recovery and economic transformation, countries with advanced digital economies, robust social safety nets, and efficient healthcare systems fare better than others.”

“There are 11 emerging areas of priority for countries to address to achieve economic transformation: moving towards a full integration of social, environmental and institutional targets into their economic systems over the next 5 years approximately,” the WEF said, basing report on the performance of 37 economies amid the pandemic.

Governments should “prioritize closing the digital divide,” as well as improve the delivery of public services and prepare support measures for future public debt, the WEF said.

The WEF also proposed a “shift to more progressive taxation, rethinking how corporations, wealth and labor are taxed, nationally and in an international cooperative framework.”

Recognizing the importance of human capital, WEF recommended that world leaders “update the education curricula, develop holistic labor laws, scale-up reskilling and upskilling programs, and create safety nets to help drive recovery.”

Countries should review competition and antitrust frameworks to boost the current business environment, WEF said.

The WEF said countries should prepare for the “markets of tomorrow,” by pursuing public-private collaboration and providing incentives for investments in research, innovation and invention.

It also proposed to grant incentives for companies that “embrace diversity, equity and inclusion to enhance creativity.”

Sought for comment on the WEF’s policy recommendations, Federation of Philippine Industries (FPI) Chairman Jesus L. Arranza said the Philippine government should focus on saving the workers.

“I think the most important thing for us to do now is to be able to save the present workforce. To save them, you should have to support companies hit by the pandemic. They should be able to rehire their workers first,” he said in a phone interview.

Mr. Arranza agreed that the country should boost investments in innovation. “It is only through innovation that you can create a definite market. I think President Rodrigo R. Duterte has the balls to do it. Kailangan lang na ang mga departamento ay mag-initiate to develop,” he added.

American Chamber of Commerce Senior Advisor John Forbes said the 11 priorities identified in the WEF assessment are “important for Philippine advancement along the road to a high middle income economy.”

“All are relevant to achieving Ambisyon Natin 2040. And all must be done, but it will take a few more decades of hard effort,” Mr. Forbes said via e-mail.

“When the midterm Philippine Development Plan is approved, we can see how well the plan has already anticipated and included the World Economic Forum proposals to improve competitiveness,” he added.

In a separate e-mail, Infrawatch PH Convenor Terry L. Ridon said: “Bridging the digital divide provides us the opportunity to leverage technology to deliver public services and information to cover the widest swath of the population.”

He said current digital investments “should also allow the development of the country’s technology services industry, which has the potential to positively disrupt many aspects of the country’s economic life, not only in the consumer segment, but also in the business-to-business economic segments.”

“At the very best, our digital investments should create the conditions for new digital entrepreneurs and tech startups, and hopefully our own version of Silicon Valley,” Mr. Ridon added.

The Philippines fell eight notches to 64th out of 141 economies in last year’s Global Competitiveness Report, which based its assessment on 12 “pillars of competitiveness,” namely: institutions, infrastructure, ICT adoption, macroeconomic stability, health, skills, product market, labor market, financial system, market size, business dynamism, and innovation capability.

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