ARROYO  WAS URGED:  MORE  ECONOMICS,  LESS  POLITICS 

MANILA,  October 29, 2004
(STAR)
Filipino businessmen want President Arroyo to start acting more like an economist than a politician as her administration tries to avoid a looming Argentina-style fiscal crisis, the head of a prestigious business school said Wednesday.

Former finance secretary Roberto de Ocampo, president of the Asian Institute of Management, remarked that "there has been more political maneuvering than actual economic measures," even though Mrs. Arroyo is a US-trained economist.

"People in the business community are really waiting for her to display a higher percentage of being an economist rather than... being a politician," De Ocampo told the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines.

He cited her populist decision in 2002 to cut power rates — a move that caused the state-run National Power Corp. to incur huge losses, contributing to the worsening fiscal situation.

Mrs. Arroyo would have to do some "resolute non-political whipcracking" to implement measures that would boost revenues, shrink the budget deficit and attract foreign investment to convince the business community, De Ocampo said.

Concern at the fiscal crisis had changed the country’s mood so that "a strong call to minimize politics from the leadership... would be heeded" as long as the President sets an example, he said.

The President has been pushing for the passage of eight revenue measures to avert the fiscal crisis but only four are likely to be passed before year-end, congress leaders say.

De Ocampo warned that international credit rating agencies could give the Philippines a downgrade in two months if they do not see proof that the government is taking the necessary measures.

"She will have to do something convincing," he said.

Despite the problems, De Ocampo said Mrs. Arroyo still had "an excellent chance," since her allies controlled both houses of Congress.

He warned that more revenue measures had to be passed, not just to shrink the deficit but to raise enough money to pay for much-needed infrastructure.

Mrs. Arroyo said earlier this week that the country had to swallow a "bitter pill" of economic reforms even if this resulted in a fall in her popularity. — AFP


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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