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Emerging MarketsEM Polls and Awards

Finance Minister of the Year, East Asia Pacific 2016

Awards 2016

Presiding over the fastest growth in the area

Awards 2016
Presiding over the fastest growth in the area

View award acceptance video 

By the time he stood down as the secretary of finance of the Republic of the Philippines on the last day of June, César Purisima, an accountant by trade and training, had overseen six solid years of improved finances. When he entered office, the Philippines was widely considered the sick man of Asia, due largely to the depredations and disastrous economic policies of the Marcos regime. 

Manila may be, right now, a hotbed of civil foment of the sort that revolutionary political parties used to excel at and revel in thanks largely to its thrusting, headstrong, eclectic and often plain baffling president, Rodrigo Duterte. But the economy is doing just fine. The International Monetary Fund tips economic output to swell by 6% in 2016 and 6.2% in 2017, the fastest pace of growth of any nation in Southeast Asia bar Vietnam. It cannot be total happenstance that the lugubrious Purisima’s tenure at the helm of the finance ministry coincided with a period during which the economy expanded at an annual average rate of 6.2%. Few find reason to argue when, in recent years, he began referring to his homeland as the region’s “resilient bright spot”. 

Purisima often played a canny hand, his policies helping to maintain a healthy current account surplus (projected at 2.6% in 2016 by the IMF and 2.4% in 2017) while trimming the national debt pile. The nation’s debt to GDP ratio, according to data from the Bureau of the Treasury, fell to 45.05% in 2015 from 54.8% in 2009. 

Few could accuse him of failing to play to both an international and a domestic audience. Rising government tax revenues helped to channel more money into social services while the broader economy benefited from a strong service sector, rising government spending, strong domestic consumption and a steady inward flow of remittances from the Filipino diaspora. Both Fitch and Standard & Poor’s in April affirmed their investment grade credit rating on the country, with Fitch giving the country a positive outlook, suggesting that a new ratings upgrade from BBB- was possible in the next one to two years. 

Purisima was also a staunch advocate of the need for a more joined-up country. During his time in charge of the nation’s finances, the Philippines met its target of spending at least 5% of GDP on infrastructure projects. He extolled the benefits of public-private partnerships wherever he travelled, working to suck in much needed foreign investment capital. By the time he stepped down, the Philippines was assiduously working its way through a pipeline of 53 PPPs, including the construction or renovation of five new airports. The Duterte administration was quick to recognise the benefits of Purisima’s plan — and to promise to raise, not lower, the number of local and national PPPs.

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