Yesterday I was up bright and early for a meeting first thing in the morning with the Swiss Ambassador, H.E. Ivo Seiber, in his lovely home in Forbes Park. It's a house that was built in the 1960s but recently it's been beautifully redone in that clean, cutting edge and ever so tasteful Swiss way that I instantly felt I was in someone's lovely home in a suburb of Zurich instead of right smack in the middle of Makati. The Swiss residence also has a very grand garden at the back that is perfect for entertaining.
A GOVERNMENT RUN BY COMMITTEE
We had so many interesting things to talk about, but one of the most fascinating to me was about Switzerland's form of government -- which is so unlike the Philippines. Basically, Switzerland is run by a committee of ministers and the presidency itself rotates between the ministers regularly so that the president is almost like a committee chairman rather than a powerful leader.
Every system has its good and bad points, but the good thing about this is that politics is not personal. It's efficient and continuous, and the government is run in an atmosphere of compromise with everyone. Talk about real teamwork.
"Decisions about the government are issued by the committee and almost never by a single individual," the Ambassador told me. "So the presidency is not personal. In fact, if you ask the average Swiss person who the president is at that moment, they'll probably have to think hard -- or they'll not be able to tell you."
The central government of Switzerland is also relatively weak as much of the power is given to the cantons, which is their equivalent of our provinces. With a weaker central government and stronger regional governments, there's always an atmosphere of compromise on the part of the central government because the regional governments are not beholden to it. In other words, not much power-tripping anywhere.
SECRET OF SUCCESS
"What's the secret behind Switzerland's success?" I asked the Ambassador.
"Well, for one thing, we haven't been directly involved in a war for 150 years," he replied. And it was true. Indeed, war has a debilitating effect on a nation's resources and the lack of a war will enable a country to amass more resources compared to a country that's constantly been at war.
THE BEST CHOCOLATE PASTRY EVER
We talked over chocolates and pastries straight from Switzerland of course. I was trying to cut down on calories but of course I had to have one. Then two. Then a couple more.
In the middle of the chocolate plate was a puff pastry filled with chocolate cream. I assumed the Ambassador's household had either made this or purchased this from some high-end pastry shop in Manila.
"Oh no," said the Ambassador. "That's come recently from Switzerland as well."
I was running out of time by then so I decided to just take one and eat in the car with a paper napkin. That's how delicious it looked that I just had to take one home. And when I did have it in the car, I was simply floored. It was the most delicious pastry I've had in a very long time, in a life of eating pretty good food practically everyday. In fact, it's so good that I'm almost tempted to ring up Madame Gracita Seiber to ask her how and where I can get one of those perfect chocolate pastries again. Even if I have to fly to Zurich one day just to do so.
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