The front pages of the newspapers here are currently dominated by one story alone: the impeachment of the Chief Justice. But for those who read beyond page 1, there have been some interesting international surveys in the papers recently. On a relatively light note, my eye was caught by a report in the Philippine Star of a survey by HSBC – of the world’s friendliest countries. The Philippines placed number 8, while just ahead at number 7 was the United Kingdom. World’s friendliest countries – another common bond between Britain and the Philippines.
More seriously, the same day’s papers carried another story about the Heritage Foundation’s Index of World Economic Freedom. The Philippines came in at 107 in the latest edition with a score of 57.1, up 0.9 from last year. Not a huge gain of course, but in the right direction all the same. That’s a little like the country’s credit ratings, which have been making quiet upward progress over the past year. The Philippines is now closing in on investment grade and is ranked a notch above Vietnam and at par with Indonesia.
But the survey that really caught my attention (and the Philippine media’s) in the past week is another HSBC report, “The World in 2050”. The big story there is the Philippines, projected to become the world’s 16th largest economy by the middle of this century. That’s up 27 places from today. The report argues that a combination of strong fundamentals and demographics could produce an average growth rate of 7% over the next 40 years.
Like any such survey, this report makes certain assumptions about future policy and other developments. Certainly a big test for the country in realising this ambition will be around the rule of law and transparency. Rewind now to December and the release of another survey, Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2011. This latest edition places Philippines at number 128 of 183 countries (where 183 is worst). That shows a job of work to be done, but it also shows an improvement on the year before, when the Philippines came in at 134 out of 178. Again, it’s not a huge step, but it’s the right direction of travel, and encouraging for the administration of President Aquino, which has made the fight against corruption a central plank of its policy platform.
It’s encouraging for me too. Corruption is a major deterrent to foreign businesses, and needs tackling if more companies are to come to the Philippines. The British Embassy in Manila has undertaken a number of initiatives to support transparency and anti-corruption. Our last high-level visitor of 2011 was Richard Alderman, head of the UK’s Serious Fraud Office, and our first visitor of 2012 – last week – was Judge Michael Hopmeier, a leading international authority on the law of asset recovery and other anti-corruption issues.
At the invitation of the Presidential Commission on Good Government he delivered the Haydee Yorac commemorative lecture, focusing on British law and practice, from the tough 2010 Bribery Act to practical examples of cases involving asset recovery. Both Richard Alderman and Michael Hopmeier had valuable discussions with a wide range of leading figures from the judicial and law enforcement worlds. In both cases, a clear message was that international co-operation is central to tackling corruption and financial crime. The Embassy looks forward to building on their discussions as a basis for further co-operation in the year ahead. It will be a small but significant contribution to helping make a reality of the Philippines’ huge growth potential.