Rafael B. Buenaventura
The Philippines has had a rough ride in recent years. Profligate politicians and a costly military campaign in the southern island of Mindanao have put the economy under tremendous pressure. But Rafael B. Buenaventura, governor of the Central Bank of the Philippines, has kept economic discipline intact. "He's the guy who has held it all together," says Cezar P. Consing, co-head of investment banking in Asia at J.P. Morgan.
Buenaventura has brought inflation down to the lowest levels since the mid-1980s -- it's now running at 2.8% -- and has spurred bank lending to healthy borrowers by trimming interest rates. And despite a deteriorating fiscal deficit, the central bank has managed to keep the peso relatively steady against the U.S. dollar.
Buenaventura has also made strides in improving transparency at the central- and commercial-bank levels. He led a charge for tough new legislative restrictions on money laundering, enabling the country, known as a notorious haven for illicit funds, to avoid looming sanctions by the international Financial Action Task Force looking for terrorist money.
That's not all. Buenaventura lobbied hard for the passage in January of a landmark bill making it easier for banks to write off some of their $20 billion in bad loans. That's vitally important, because those festering debts and repossessed properties account for about one quarter of all outstanding loans.
Before taking his current job in 1999, Buenaventura had worked for 34 years in the private sector, including almost a quarter-century at Citibank. In 1989, he was named chief executive of Manila-based PCI Bank, which he ran for a decade. But since assuming his current office, the 64-year-old central banker has taken a surprisingly strong interest in the problems of ordinary Filipinos and the poor in particular. He's especially proud of his role in expanding the Philippines' microcredit programs.
Buenaventura's support was crucial in winning passage of a law in 2000 that, as of September, had disbursed $36 million in loans to the country's poor -- at an average of just $104 per loan. "We have to create a pro-poor environment," he says. Good policy from a role model for his profession.