Making sense

Secretary Art Tugade is right when he says bus rapid transit systems will not work if they would traverse narrow or heavily utilized roads.

 I cannot for the life of me see what logic there is for a BRT traversing the traffic-choked and often narrow thoroughfares of Cebu City.  For instance, the proposed Cebu BRT will pass by Escario St. which connects the provincial capitol area and Fuente Osmena to Banilad.  Both are four-lane roads.

 If you dedicate one lane coming and going for the BRT, you will have only one lane left on both sides.  Unless you widen the roads, and this is difficult to do because this will mean demolishing buildings along the way and will entail costly and lengthy road right-of-way negotiations, you will create more traffic bottlenecks.

Imagine further if there is a fire somewhere and fire trucks have to rush.  Or an ambulance.  The problem with most of our cities is that these were not planned with enough vision to foresee population growth and vehicle multiplication.

As we have said before, we cannot seem capable of looking beyond the tips of our noses.

In antediluvian Cebu, the country’s first known settlement when the Spaniards came, roads were constructed since the 19th and 20th centuries, and about the only way you can solve the traffic nightmares that bedevil both locals and visitors alike is a subway, or a light rail system, or a suspended aerial tram system, even a monorail.

Don’t laugh at Sec. Art’s proposal to have cable cars. It’s not like what travelers have experienced in Hong Kong’s Ocean Park, or even Disneyland. These days, cable car systems are so efficient they can carry huge loads, or dozens of passengers in each car.  And they take little land space for the posts from which the cables are suspended.

It makes a lot of sense to think out of the usual box.

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The country’s banking system is agriculture-averse, as DA Sec. Manny Pinol rightly observes.  There is an Agri-Agra Law that requires banks to set aside 20 percent of their loanable funds for agriculture, but that is not observed.

Instead, banks buy government bonds or other instruments to comply with and similarly circumvent the intent of the law.

Banks find lending to farmers risky. A good example, for those who still remember, are the Masagana 99 loans.  Farmers borrowed; farmers failed to pay.  Many borrowed not to use in producing more and better crops, but in buying consumer goods (though that did something good for the economy) or worse, betting in cockfights.

There’s a good idea I got in Sabah, and it may be worth considering.  Instead of government, through the LandBank, lending directly to farmers, why not engage the private sector to do the lending and collecting?  It works like this: The Sabah Cooperative Fund is managed privately, by bankers who know their business.  Government lends to the fund, at a low interest rate.  They then re-lend to farmers, making a little spread, and strictly monitor farm performance. Micro-management works better, provided the system is not corrupted.

It’s like the rural banking system that we have had for ages, but in Sabah, it works marvelously, and is used to help uplift the lives of indigenous peoples left behind by the march of progress in the urban areas.

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Let’s face it.  Government is never going to be good at running business.  There are so many bureaucratic procedures; so many audit restrictions such that business decisions are slow and ponderous.

Take the Duty Free Philippines, which ought to have been privatized ages ago.

When I was head of the Philippine Tourism Authority and vice-chairman of the board, I wanted to initiate talks with the big duty free groups in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and others to manage our duty free airport outlets but the Erap presidency was too short-lived for any major bureaucratic reorganization.  Besides, the DoT secretary at the time and the appointed head of Duty Free Philippines were not keen on privatizing.

Look at our duty free outlets in our international airports, and weep.  Don’t even try comparing these to the duty free stores you see in Hong Kong or Singapore. There are out-moded merchandise, brands forgotten a generation ago, and very few locally made quality items on display.

Retail business, especially, is something that requires quick decisions and creative thinking to be able to compete.  But because it is a monopoly, and a government monopoly at that, neither creativity nor good business sense prevails.

Making sense of things in government is a difficult task.  Making sense of political considerations being above good economics is nonsense.

Topics: Art Tugade , Manny Pinol , Fuente Osmena , Philippine Tourism Authority
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