Monday, April 25, 2011

RP and the dim road to good governance

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) promotes democratic and good governance among its members; Philippines inclusive. The absence of corruption is the best indicator of good governance. On the contrary, despite a nation’s level of development (or underdevelopment), a nation cannot fully eradicate corruption. There is always a degree, from minimal (like those of the Scandinavian countries) to widespread (Myanmar, for example).

In the Philippines, corruption is very prevalent that it is present in local governments and even in the national scale. I have read a few public administration articles and managed to know this: that possessing government positions (executive or legislative) is a duty of the officials to make the lives of the people better and not worse. But at these times, it’s quite the reverse. The people are the ones who make the lives of the government officials better while theirs, worse. See, these officials use public offices not for public administration but rather for private gains.

Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap (Corruption alleviated, poverty eradicated),” was President Noynoy Aquino’s tagline during his 2010 electoral campaign. This is probably the reason why he acquired the most powerful seat in the country and not because he was the son of Filipino “heroes” or the brother of the most talkative person in the country today. Despite my personal aversion on him, I like his campaign slogan; it’s even better than my bet Gibo Teodoro’s “Galing at talino (Ability and intelligence)”. Who wouldn’t like it? It’s music to the ears of the people. It is a statement that signifies the soon rise of the Philippines, a beacon of light, of hope to poor Filipinos. But after almost a year now, I guess that was just it: a source of light that will always be seen but never touch.

I tried to ask myself, “What have gone wrong?” I am not in the right position to say this but I guess Aquino lacked the focus on the eradication of corruption. But if you remember, PNoy’s Executive Order No. 1 established the Truth Commission which aims to determine the cases of corruption that happened in the past administration, that is, Arroyo’s administration. That was a great first move. Then again, it was considered unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. What was the President’s next step regarding corruption alleviation? Was it just me or was there a next step?

In order for the Philippines to achieve good governance, I think the government should not focus on extinguishing corruption only. According to UNDP, there are eight characteristics of good governance which we could concentrate on: (1) participation or the voicing out of opinions and stands to the government officials either directly or indirectly; (2) rule of law or the requirement of fair legal frameworks and the protection of human rights; (3) transparency or the availability and accessibility of information that affects one’s decisions; (4) responsiveness or the serving of government to all its stakeholders within a reasonable timeframe; (5) consensus orientation or the mediation of the different interests of the society to reach an agreement on what is best to the whole community; (6) equity or the feeling that the people are not excluded from the mainstream of the society and that they have a stake in it; (7) effectiveness and efficiency or the meeting of the society’s needs while making the best use of the resources available as well as the protection of the environment; and (8) accountability or the liability not only of the government but also the private sector and civil society to those who are (or will be) affected by their decisions. Much like the grand octagon of corporate governance, good governance has eight bases that when one is weak if not missing, achieving it would be difficult if not impossible.

Good governance, in its totality, is very challenging to attain, much more in a developing country like the Philippines. With scarce resources, will it be enough to strengthen the pillars of the grand octagon of good governance? And with greedy “educated” people sitting as government officials of the country, will we ever eradicate corruption? We cannot blame them entirely for giving us a benighted land. The 1987 Constitution (which I believe is outdated) states that, “sovereignty resides in the people and all governmental authority emanates from them.” My previous management subjects taught me that with authority comes responsibility and accountability. Ergo, it is the Filipino population who is liable for such an unfortunate republic. In layman’s terms, it is our fault.

But, say, we became more disciplined, more intelligent in choosing our leaders; will that immediately lead to a good government? Not exactly. My tita, who is taking up public administration courses, told me that the modern concept of government has three key players: the government itself, the civil society, and businesses. Ergo, to achieve good governance, we need to enhance all of them. Businesses, or the private sector, currently administer corporate governance and social responsibility in their management. I believe that this fortifies the foundation of a country’s governance. On the contrary, we possess a weak people power. Are two EDSA Revolutions enough to say that we already possess a strong societal participation? No. One must also consider that in the 2010 presidential elections, the voter turnout was only 71 percent which is significantly lower than in 1946 (it was approximately 96 percent). If we do want a good government then we must strengthen our ability to voice out our opinions to the government. It is good that the media, ABS-CBN and GMA networks specifically, are helping us with this. TV Patrol’s online text poll gives us the capability to share our stands regarding current political or economic issues. In addition, GMA has planned to host a great debate on the controversial Reproductive Health Bill to be aired on national TV some time May. If these are not great steps towards achieving societal participation, I don’t know what is.

Secondly, we should reinvent our government in such a way that it will support the eight pillars of good governance. A reading given my tita (the same tita I mentioned earlier) presents 10 principles, namely: (1) Catalytic or deciding on what should be done and mobilizing others to do it; (2) Community owned or the empowering, well, the community; (3) Competitive or removing monopolies and creating more providers for better, innovative, and less expensive services; (4) Mission driven and not rule driven; (5) Results oriented or basing on outcomes rather than inputs; (6) Citizens driven or meeting the needs of the people rather than bureaucracy; (7) Enterprising or practicing entrepreneurship and earning money; (8) Anticipatory or focusing on prevention rather than cure; (9) Decentralization or giving emphasis on participation and teamwork more than the hierarchy; and (10) Market-oriented or having the creativity in using markets for public purposes.

Truly, the road to good governance is not as easy as it seems. This is the greatest challenge to all the world leaders. For the Philippines, this is not an easy task; this will never be an easy task. If the government cannot abolish the roots of bad governance (i.e. oligarchic domination and graft and corruption) then I guess it’ll be a very long way ahead. Also, we could not deny the fact that our benighted land is groping in the dark to achieve a good government despite PNoy’s slogan “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap” and his shiny reflector located just above his eyebrows. But hey, the great Chinese philosopher Kung Fu-tze once said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” And yes, even if it is a dark journey of a thousand miles.

Credit to Dr. Ferdinand J. Lamarca for his module in DPA 301 – Theories in the Administrative System for providing the 10 Principles of Reinventing the Government

NOTE: This was an essay submitted for my Corporate Governance and Social Responsibility course.

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