Thursday, March 20, 2014

The issue is government effectiveness

Sen. Serge Osmeña has done the nation a world of good in calling attention to the under-performance and awful management of President Aquino and his Cabinet after nearly four years in office. Coming from an Aquino ally and key campaign leader in 2010, that’s a thunderbolt that could electrocute, or at least wake up everyone.

The public should get to the heart of the criticism and the issue. There’s a danger that some will dismiss the problem as just semantics; other observers and critics have indicted the administration more harshly as incompetent and clueless, barely a notch above a student council government.

To muddy the issue, Budget secretary Florencio Abad has weighed in with his own rating of Aquino’s performance, giving him high marks as a manager. With Abad’s responsibility for the disbursement of pork barrel funds and the invention of the mammoth Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) still festering, that’s the equivalent of Al Capone rating the FBI on law enforcement. Just because his office is called the Department of Budget and Management does not cloak Abad with management expertise, a notion that no budget secretary in history ever claimed.

It is equally misleading to feast on the Osmena quote as the death knell for a lameduck presidency, as some are merrily doing in social media.

It is more important for the nation to get its perspective straight and read the nation’s pulse accurately, so we can focus on the real challenge facing us.

No policy agenda to solve problems
The primary issue here, I submit, is government effectiveness – government failure to draft a coherent policy agenda for solving the nation’s many problems and urgent crises.

Most glaring among the administration’s failures are:

Helplessness in coping with the devastation and human misery wreaked by Super Typhoon Yolanda, despite the massive assistance provided by the family of nations and international aid organizations;

Rising joblessness amid a growing economy, and deepening poverty;

Weak agricultural growth and manufacturing decline;

Slow buildup of the nation’ infrastructure;

High prices of basic utilities—electricity, water rates, and telecommunications;

Unstable relations with neighbors.

Government ineffectiveness in these areas are striking because the past three years under President Aquino’s leadership have been a time of growth for the economy; a rare time of positive reports on our country; unprecedented growth of international reserves; rise of the Philippines to the top in business process outsourcing, and the rise of overseas workers remittances to nearly $22 billion annually.

The tremendous capital created by these positive developments, however, has not been effectively translated into lasting political stability, government competence, economic dynamism and social harmony.

The meaning of effectiveness
In a vivid explanation of the idea of effectiveness, the thinker and teacher Edward de Bono says:

“Without effectiveness there is nothing. The greatest dreams in the world stay as dreams if there is no effectiveness.

“What is effectiveness?

“Effectiveness is setting out to do something and doing it.

It is as simple as that.”

De Bono wrote these words in the book, Handbook for the Positive Revolution, which he wrote for Brazil to assist its government in its bid for national transformation. Remarkably, in just a decade after its publication in 1991, Brazil rose to the front rank of nations, and is now ready to host the World Cup this year, and the Olympics in 2016.

Effectiveness is the missing link, you might say, in the evolution of the Noynoy Aquino presidency. It is the crying need of our government today.

As scandals have proliferated over the pork barrel and smuggling, government in our country has never been in greater disrepute and less trusted by the citizenry than it is now.

Public officials, elective and appointive, are uniformly suspected of raiding the national treasury.

The low public regard is mirrored by a decline of talent in government service. As President Aquino is perceived to have no qualifications for the presidency, so people of talent and with expertise shy away from public service, leaving the field alone to the mediocre and easily corruptible.

Without respect and trust in government, there can be little change for the better.

A positive case for government
President Aquino has often lamented that the media and his critics stress only the negative in what they see around them and do not see and report the positive.

Ironically, according to a highly respected Harvard professor of management, Rosabeth Moss Kanter, building the positive case for government is a key part of the solution for making government more effective. She writes:

“The most important factor is leadership . . . To restore respect for government, leaders need to argue the positive case—that government carries out meaningful and beneficial functions, that public service can be a high calling, and that government services can be [and should be] provided with impartial professionalism . . .

“As long as antigovernment rhetoric goes unchallenged and voices of respect are silent, we will not get good government.”

I have a theory that it wouldn’t be so problematic if PNoy was not so arrogant, vindictive and divisive at the start of his presidency. The belief that he could do no wrong and the inability to admit mistakes has combined with arrogance and vindictiveness to create a toxic situation for the administration and our society.

Now is the time to restore the situation to sanity and balance.

Now is the time for the President to reason together with other leaders. Conversing only with himself will lead nowhere.

The criticisms will become more positive and less scathing when the government shows and proves its effectiveness in solving national problems.

Effectiveness requires professionalism and competence.

Good government is based on facts, and can never be sired by mere propaganda.

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