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Monday, June 22, 2009

A Concerned Citizen’s 10-Point Reform Agenda To Strengthen The Philippine Bureaucracy

Malapit na ang eleksyon at wala nang isang taon ay muli na namang mamimili ang taumbayan kung sino ang iluluklok na Pangulo ng Pilipinas sa 2010. Dahil doon ay nais ko pong ilathala ang "Concerned CItizens 10 Point Reform Agenda" na ipinaabot sa akin sa pamamagitan ng isang e-mail upang ipahatid noon kay Bayan Muna Representative Teddy Casiño. Ito po ay mula kay Niña Terol...

A CONCERNED CITIZEN’S 10-POINT REFORM AGENDA TO STRENGTHEN THE PHILIPPINE BUREAUCRACY

8 February 2008

Dear friends and fellow citizens of the Philippine Republic:

I am writing this in the wake of several events that have greatly upset the balance of various forces that keep our teetering nation afloat.

Three nights ago, I awoke from a night-time nap to see a live telecast of the House of Representatives unseating its incumbent Speaker after an explosive (but not shocking) revelation and a long and tense voting process, and then installing a new Speaker from the same party.

Then, the day after that, I once again awoke from my slumber in time to see another live telecast—this time showing an emotionally charged man presenting a damning testimony about a large-scale government project and billions of pesos that we (and our children and grandchildren, and maybe even our great-grandchildren) will have to repay in taxes and foregone basic social services.

Through these past three days, I have kept close watch over the unfolding of events and have felt a deep sense of sadness, frustration, anger—and even rage—over what our country has turned into. Here I am, still in this country in spite of several opportunities to leave, and I’m wondering if this country is indeed still worth staying for, still worth fighting for. I feel sad that I feel this way; I feel frustrated because I don’t know if ANYTHING I do will really make a big difference; and I feel anger and rage because I do not deserve this. WE do not deserve this.

I am not here to take sides, or to lay blame, but to make my feelings and ideas known. The problems we face in our country are systemic; short-term, “Band-Aid” solutions will not work. In the same way, merely replacing our leaders (such as what the Lower House did) will not do much to change the system. What we need is to OVERHAUL the way we regard and treat our government (which includes the ENTIRE bureaucracy), the way we regard and treat our country and the way we regard and treat ourselves.

For as long as we think that our government is made up of the “latak” of Philippine society, then that’s what we will get. For as long as we EXPECT government workers to be small-minded and corruptible, then that’s what they will. So maybe it’s about time to DEMAND that our government be made of the best, the brightest, and the most qualified of professionals—with some degree of credibility, authority, and moral ascendancy over their posts. Then, perhaps, real change can begin.

What I propose, therefore, are some steps that will entail changing and strengthening the bureaucracy from within. These are by no means politically motivated or even politically focused; these ideas are more organizational in nature—meant to “attack” the virus at its core, regardless of who is in charge.

So please indulge me in sharing my ideas. I realize that I probably have no authority to say these things—I am, after all, merely a communicator with no degree in law or government, with no actual government experience, and with no PhDs to boast of. BUT I CARE. I care so much about what happens to us that I wish I were better equipped to actually make these changes happen. But like José Rizal, one of this country’s greatest thinkers with whom I share my alma mater, my only weapon is my pen—and, perhaps, my great love for this country.

If, after you read this, you think that there may actually be some merit to these ideas, please feel free to pass this letter on to those in government, in civil society, in the academe, or in the private sector who would be capable of putting these reforms into place. At this point, I simply need the catharsis or I will explode.

Reform and strengthen the bureaucracy

Change must happen not only in the top tiers of government, but also deep within it and across the board. I have heard many, many horror stories of the dysfunctions of the system not only because of its leaders, but also because of the very people who make it up. If we are working in the government, or transacting with it and acquiescing to the very ills that pain us today (as most of us are), then we are part of the problem, too. Therefore, the solutions must start at the grassroots level of governance.

1. Require ALL public officials to pass the Civic Service Exam AND a standard psychological exam before assuming an appointive and/or elective post. Corollary to that, require all legislative posts (and even all top appointive posts, from cabinet secretaries down to their assistant secretaries and group heads) to first pass a Constitutional Exam before even being allowed to file for candidacy. (This may require a constitutional amendment)

2. Conduct bi-annual metrics-based performance evaluation of all elected and appointed officials through a publicized scorecard showing officials’ Key Result Areas and Key Performance Indicators, and enabling citizens across the board to know how their officials fared. (For this, we can look to the BPO industries and other best practices in the private sector for the necessary templates.)

3. Regularly convene a Citizens’ Evaluation Board that will act as a jury to input their own evaluations of public officials and their legislations or projects.

4. Strengthen the hiring and firing system of the Civic Service Commission to ensure that only those who are qualified for posts are hired, and that those who are unqualified or fail to perform are disciplined, penalized, and/or fired.

5. Streamline the bureaucracy: eliminate redundant posts and ghost employees to free up government funds to raise baseline salaries (competitive to those of private sector posts, since nobody can live on a salary of P4,500 (!!) or even P9,000 a month) and introduce incentives to attract qualified talent to the government. How much is good governance worth? Why do we pay our government officials so poorly and then get surprised when people cheat, lie, and steal to make ends meet?

6. Convene think tanks from the academe, civil society, and private sector (Filipinos based here and abroad) to make specific recommendations about various priority areas in government. Make these recommendations public so that there is transparency and accountability in addressing these recommendations.

7. Require the publication of all elected officials’ and candidates evaluations prior to an election period (where applicable). Exploit the power of available technology to demand transparency and accountability from all government officials and employees.

Discourage and eliminate corruption

There is absolutely no excuse for corrupt practices. However, our current bureaucratic system has encouraged it because it has failed to reward achievements and punish offenses.

8. Institutionalize regulated and standardized project management fees for government agencies that manage projects. Perhaps the answer to all these under-the-table kickbacks and commissions is to bring them out into the open and standardize them. After all, many companies charge project management fees to run projects; maybe the same system can be applied to government agencies (so that we can stop denying that such kickbacks and commissions exist!). Make project management fees “receiptable” and their reports public so that everyone will know who is getting how much for what. Further incentives (performance bonuses, etc.) could be granted to project management teams that deliver exceptional results.

a. Example 1: For projects below P10M, a 10% project management fee may be allotted to the project management team/involved government agency. Of this 10%, the project proponent and members of the project team will get their own (standardized) professional fees as compensation for their time, skills, and expertise. Not only will this, in current events lingo, “moderate the greed;” it might be a good way to start correcting our government’s “dysfunctional procurement system.”

b. Example 2: For projects ranging from P10M to P99M, the project management fee may be lowered to 5-7%; and so on.

9. Publish a Web-based portal (developed and managed by academe, civil society, private sector, with the cooperation of all government departments, agencies, and branches) of all existing government projects (including infrastructure projects initiated by legislators) that will enable even ordinary citizens to track the progress of projects and demand government accountability when and where it is required. Corollary to this, require all legislators, cabinet secretaries, etc. to publish audited reports of their PDAF and department budgets the way publicly listed companies publish their annual reports.

10. Create support structures to encourage and protect private citizens who need to report cases of government corruption across all levels. From those of us who get stopped on the street for traffic offenses we did not commit, to those of us filing government documents and asked to be paid a small fee (“padulas”) to expedite its completion, to those of us involved in government contracts and asked to pay exorbitant amounts to get our projects approved, ALL of us—at one time or another—have been subject to graft and corruption in government. Can’t there be a better way of reporting offenses and protecting ourselves? Perhaps we can also use SMS- and Web-based technologies to make such systems possible. More than this, there should be a campaign to encourage reporting and “whistle-blowing” of government transgressions. After all, we should all be encouraged to tell the truth so that those who are doing underhanded acts are discouraged from doing so.

The events that have recently unfolded in our country only show that we can no longer turn a blind eye on the practical and gray realities surrounding us. Outside of the greed that permeates our society, people are motivated by sheer NEED AND HUNGER. They do not earn the proper wages, so they feel the need to resort to underhanded and criminal acts in order to feed themselves and their families. They do not get the respect they deserve as officials of the Philippine government, so they resort to bullying and power-tripping in order to feel their importance. They are not shown respect and dignity as human beings, so they trample on others’ dignity in order to feel a bit better about their plight. This in no way excuses people’s actions, but it’s, perhaps, the “dark side” of human nature that we ought to recognize and address squarely in the face.

I really hope that things can still be done to heal the wounds that are hurting all of us. More importantly, I hope that WE can be part of the solution. It doesn’t matter whether we’re earning P1,000 or P1,000,000 a month; this upheaval affects each of us, so the answer MUST lie (somehow) in each of us as well.

Thank you for bearing with me. If there is anything I can do to be of greater service to my country, please let me know.

Yours truly,

Niña Terol
Writer. Communicator. Filipino
nina.terol@gmail.com



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