Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Understanding Nation Building (Part 14)

On Bureaucracy

We continue with Understanding Nation Building, and our analysis of the Blueprints for a Viable Philippines initiative. This is their analysis: “Successive administrations have transformed the whole bureaucracy into a dumping ground for political appointees without qualifications. This has made it very difficult to form a career civil service that, with its professionalism, can survive political transitions. The present administration has so far been the worst violator of the norm of professionalism in the civil service. The Arroyo administration has compromised the political neutrality of the bureaucracy by the extensive use of government agencies and offices to engineer her election, and after the election, by using appointments to the bureaucracy to pay back political debts.”

Well there is certainly always a need to enact a more professional career civil service. That means constantly upgrading testing, acceptance, training and performance of the civil service.

Now looking at the employment style of government over the past few years, there has certainly been a rise in effort to professionalized the civil service. Of course this is not to say that Administrations past and present and future will not put in place people they trust, irregardless of capability. Thats asking too much, believing too much in the good of people.

Their analysis is this: A strong professional civil service is the pillar of any democracy. So long as there is a politically neutral public bureaucracy, the nation will be able to withstand the most severe political storms. Such a civil service is what guarantees continuity of government programs despite changes in administration. The present bureaucracy is not only plagued by corruption and saddled by incompetent political appointees; it is also burdened by its size. Many government offices and agencies have overlapping functions.

It is not to say that the present bureaucracy is not plagued by corruption. There is, just as in any organization, and perhaps the graver crime are those in the higher echelons with more opportunity to do bigger things. Certainly the government bureaucracy is huge and speaks of the dire need to modernize, professionalize and reform the civil service, but let us not forget where our unemployment and underemployment figures stand. For years, Government has lifted its fair share of the burden to provide jobs. And the many over lapping functions of the bureaucracy speaks of the inefficiency of our national government.

BLUEPRINT Recommendations: Streamline the bureaucracy by abolishing redundant offices and merging agencies and organizations with overlapping functions. Trim down the number of government personnel by offering attractive optional retirement packages. Merging those with complementary functions will reduce the number of government departments. Promotions will be based not just on credentials but more importantly on demonstrated competency. Review the Salary Standardization Law with a view to upgrading the salary levels of crucial categories of government personnel. Presidential appointments to the bureaucracy will be confined to the secretary level and no more than one-half of the undersecretaries in every department. All other offices below the undersecretary shall be career positions. Train the next generation of civil servants by active recruitment among the best and brightest young Filipinos.

While it is easy to say, “streamline the bureaucracy”, it is not as easy as that. The bloated functions in our government steams from the our form of government. If the nation switches to federalism, then the right balance of bureaucracy can be moved to towns, provinces and regions. Sure it will still be an inefficient, ineffective government but employment can be moved to towns, villages, provinces and cities and Manila does not become the center of the universe for Filipinos.

With regard to getting “the best and the brightest”, it is a known fact that the best and the brightest go where the money is. Until such a day that Salaries are reasonably competitive with private sector, it becomes a difficult task of recruiting people into government life.

The President is top dog. He or she is boss of the executive, it does make sense that the power to appoint or fire a member of your organization should be left in the hands of the president. Its only rightful to get people who you want to work with, work for you.

There was this episode of the NBC drama, “The West Wing”. President Bartlet sees this political talk show where a very pretty and young Republican lawyer, Ainsley, out debates the Deputy White House Communications Director, Sam. When Bartlet's Chief of Staff goes into a meeting at the Oval Office, Bartlet says to Leo (the Chief of Staff) he ought to hire Hayes. Leo rightly rolls his eyes, imagine a Republican working in a Democratic White House! Leo summons Ainsley to his office and offers her a job, to work at the White House Counsel's Office. She initially declines the offer but after having a peak at how Bartlet is working, she agrees to be their lawyer.

There are two points to this story: first the ability of people to hire and fire someone who works for them. Why should the highest executive official not have the power to chose who works for him to get the job done? Why do we constantly have to question their decision on the matter? Second, Civil Service is always about civic duty. It is all about service and the best and brightest are too smart to get involve in the madness of government and would prefer to serve in other capacities (i.e. outside government). We should instill a sense of civic duty in every Filipino as much as raise the standard of competence for civil servants.

That said there are two ways to go about professionalizing the Civil Service: raise the bar of competency. Constantly require training, testing, performance acceptance and of course provide for reasonable salaries but these changes if ever it can be done, expect it to be implemented over years and perhaps the only way to trim the fat is to build a federal government.