The country’s best paid civil servants are working at the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas. Ben Diokno, who was governor last year, earned P41.8 million. Thirteen of the top 15 highest paid bureaucrats are from the BSP.
I have nothing against paying our civil servants well, specially if they are as qualified as the BSP officials. If they were working in the private sector, they would probably be earning as much, if not more.
They should also be paid well to put them above the temptations for corruption. They are after all, regulating banks and financial institutions and the stakes are high for proper regulation.
But good pay comes with good and honest service. So far, we do not seem to have problems on the honesty side. The public’s problem with the polymer currency however, suggests a need for the highly paid officials to see things from the perspective of the common citizen.
I am not sure if the then Governor Ben subjected the design of the new polymer currency to market study. The concept is good. I saw my first polymer currency years ago on a visit to Australia. It seems cleaner and sturdier than paper.
Introducing something as novel as this requires extensive market study. How do people use paper money? Jeepney drivers and bus conductors routinely fold paper currency lengthwise four times and put the folded money between their fingers for easy access to give change.
Market vendors unmindfully push paper currency in their apron pockets, crumpling it in the process. People who use money clips instead of wallets fold it. My late former boss, Geny Lopez, used a rubber band. And if wallets are too small, they fold it to fit. Some even fold it to a small square to fit a coin purse.
Can the polymer currency withstand the torture the paper currency has been going through? Of course we should treat our currency with more loving care. But habits are difficult to change. Innovations must adapt to us and not the other way around.
Actually, there are many who are wondering why we shifted to a polymer bill at all. Countries like Japan and the United States have stuck to their paper currencies. And Japan is even buying abaca fiber from us to use in their yen notes.
It is easy to wonder if the shift to the polymer notes is supplier-driven. There doesn’t seem to be any urgent need to shift.
The first thing BSP told us when the new polymer bill was introduced is that it should not be folded. Even the PNP warned doing so risks a fine or imprisonment.
BSP Governor Philip Medalla advised people to just buy a longer wallet to accommodate it without folding. That’s BSP’s version of Marie Antoinette’s “Let them eat cake.”
If they did a good survey to find out how paper currencies are used, the right size of the bill could have been determined. A former NEDA secretary observed in our Viber group, “it is such a radical measure that is causing so much inconvenience and annoyance and change in people’s money handling habits.”
Now, someone’s new polymer bill was rejected by a cashier at SM because it had a fold. SM belatedly clarified that the folded bill is acceptable after a social media outcry.
I received a press release from the BSP at 10 p.m. Monday saying it is alright to accept folded polymer bills. That’s not what they said in earlier releases. I imagine SM gave instructions to their cashiers based on the earlier BSP guidelines.
Journalist Tony Lopez observed: “The BSP has created in the new P1000 bills the aristocracy of money. It is more sensitive than your bunso, rendering it useless in most transactions specially in talipapas.” Polymers also warp if inadvertently left in a car parked under the sun.
Then the banks have their problems with the polymer currency too. It is too thin for the counting machines tellers use. The banks also have difficulty loading polymers into the cassettes of ATMs so it can’t dispense an accurate number of banknotes per request.
A BSP official advised the banks to change their ATM and counting machines. Easier said than done, expensive and cannot happen quickly. Another typically snooty BSP reaction.
All these could have been avoided if the highly paid BSP officials did their homework to get a better sense of the market. Then they could have tried on a small scale before going full blast.
A better communication effort is also important. It would have prevented confusion that tarnished their public service image. BSP officials tend to have a dismissive attitude when dealing with the public which they seem to consider their inferiors.
They should show more empathy with the concerns of ordinary folks and painstakingly explain what is going on and what they are doing. Statements like not losing sleep over the falling peso delivered a message to the market that seems to have made the fall faster than anticipated, from 52 to 56 in four weeks.
Professor Medalla should realize he is no longer in his classroom where he can drop cute statements and get away with it. As BSP Governor, everything he says is dissected and given meaning, even something he may not actually intend.
I realize it is not easy for such learned individuals to stoop down to the level of ordinary laymen to explain what they are doing and why. But it is required or they risk unintended outcomes.
When public information at the BSP was handled by a former journalist, Fe dela Cruz, there was an effort to make the esoteric understandable. I worked with Fe at PNOC after I recruited her from Business Day. It was our job to translate the technical to layman and explain what our institutions are doing and why. That’s what BSP must do now.
When even the President of the Republic is not paid as much as BSP officials, the bar for performance in all aspects of their work is expectedly high. Fumbling the launch of a newly designed peso bill is the last thing expected of them.