As the name implies, the World Economic Forum (WEF) is not just an ordinary forum, but a high-profile gathering of leaders, men and women in Governments, Businesses, Non-Governmental Organizations and civil society throughout the world to discuss on the world’s economic (past and present) challenges. WEF is one of the organizations which embraces globalization, trade liberalization, private sector participation and other related economic development jargon. WEF is a Geneva-based non-profit organization, wherein its Annual General Meetings are usually held in Davos, Switzerland.
Apart from its Annual Meetings, WEF also holds regional meetings each year in a pre-identified location which is considered strategic and appropriate for the intended particular theme for discussion.
For this year’s WEF East Asia regional meeting for instance, the Philippines was invited to host a 3-day forum which starts on May 21 to 23, 2014 at the Makati’s Shangri-La Hotel with the theme, “Leveraging Growth for Equitable Progress.” The Philippine Government is expected to welcome over 600 delegates from various countries, with an estimated expenses of P71 million (as reported by the Philippine’s Secretary of Finance) for the entire event. The Aquino administration is optimistic that its infrastructure projects included in the pipeline would attract both local and foreign investors, and help stimulate the economy, considering the country’s stable economic outlook and the improved investment grade of BBB-. The said forum is in collaboration with big-ticket private institutions such as the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company, SM Investments, International Container Terminal Services, Inc. and Ayala Corporation.
I have attended a similar international gathering in the past where Government representatives from various countries are invited to showcase abroad their respective investment opportunities during the said conference to prospective investors interested in infusing resources and technical know-how in various public utility projects ranging from transport, power, water, airports and the like. But the said conference turned out a “roadshow” literally, as no “real” investors came out to infuse fresh cash from their own pockets, so to speak, without Governments’ willingness to provide subsidies and tax holidays.
The 2014 WEF Forum East Asia is an opportunity for ordinary Filipinos like the children and grandchildren of “Mang (Mister) Pandoy” to have a good life, probably not in the short term; but something for them to wait and see if the said forum would cause visible and tangible economic gains in the long run. Majority of the struggling Filipinos have so much expectations in the said Forum, i.e., if it could bring in more funds to the Philippine Government, at least much higher than the P71 million that it would spend for the 3-day gathering and the plushy soirees, particularly in terms of providing them education, employment, healthcare and most of all the food on their “makeshift tables”. Otherwise, everything else would be an exercise in futility. The P71 million could have greater value if utilized in a more meaningful project, e.g. the building of homes and rehabilitation of the places affected by the strong typhoon “Yolanda”.
There is no argument that the private sector plays a pivotal role in a country’s economic development, but focusing the discussion alone on how Government could entice and protect the interests of “rich minority” considering their large investments may not be prudent after all. The Governments and its private sector partners should input at least social responsibility in their minds particularly on how they can uplift the quality of life of the poor majority not just in the Philippines but the entire East Asia. It is worth noting that part of the current theme of the Forum is about “growth for equitable progress”; thus, it is expected that the delegates would adopt an “inclusive approach” in the discussion taking into account every aspect of life (e.g. economic, technological, environmental, etc), thereby uplifting the dignity of everyone , the rich and poor alike, that would constitute a just and humane society for the common good.
It is hoped and expected that WEF Forum in East Asia would be timely and the start for intellectual policy makers and wealthy business leaders worldwide to include greater meaningful policy changes and economic reforms which would address poverty alleviation, unemployment, gender and wealth inequality, environmental degradation and other challenges that the world is presently encountering. If one is or if all of these are achieved in the near future, the honorable men and women behind WEF would be able to build trust with the “poor majority” of the people in developing countries, and would be able to proudly say that indeed the forum is truly beneficial to everyone.
Let’s wait and see what happens next!