Newsmakers : Neri Takes On A Tough Task

PHILIPPINES

 

 

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It’s not a plane but a plan: “747” is the route map that incoming Philippine economic sec-retary Romulo Neri is bringing to his new post. He aims to eradicate absolute poverty in the Asian state by 2010 through introducing “7% growth for seven years.”

Formerly head of the congressional planning and budget office and a professor at the Asian Institute of Manage-ment, Neri took over the task of heading up the country’s economy in December. The previous economic secretary, Dante Canlas, had resigned at the request of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Elections are still 17 months off, but Arroyo has begun campaigning. According to the local press, Arroyo states that Canlas had to go “because of perceptions of an economic crisis that have to be dispelled.”

In fact, the Philippine economy is not far-ing that badly. GDP growth for the first three quarters of last year was 4.1%, and inflation stands at only 2.5%. Interest rates have been held at a 10-year low since the end of last year’s first quarter, and exports (largely electronics) are growing.

The chief bugbear is the country’s large budgetary deficit, which stands at 5.6% of GDP. Early indications are that Neri wants to shake up things on the supply side, rather than relying on pump-priming demand. He’s got corporate experience, having spent 10 years in the finance and planning functions at Philippine National Oil. Whether that gives him the political clout to survive in one of Asia’s hottest seats remains to be seen.

—Benjamin Beasley-Murray


 

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