community engagement

The Plan

It took them awhile but more than a year on after the 2010 elections, the president’s men have finally come up with an embryo of a plan to translate his slogans into a meaningful and measurable set of actions.

The Executive Order #43 entitled, “Pursuing our Social Contract with the Filipino People through the Reorganization of the Cabinet Clusters” dated Friday the 13th of May 2011 (and tweeted by the Palace yesterday) will probably receive very little attention in the media, but it is a document that starts to define the strategic intent of the president.

The game plan

By its title, you know that it seeks to re-organize the groupings of secretaries called cabinet clusters, but its real purpose is to set up a strategic framework for cabinet deliberations as well as a strategic monitoring and reporting system around five key themes on which the Philippine Development Plan (PDP) the administration’s strategic document has been built.

The idea is that each cabinet cluster will be assigned a theme. The themes correspond to each of the key result areas of the social contract that was the Liberal Party’s platform during the election. They center on the following:

  • Good governance and anti-corruption
  • Human development and poverty reduction
  • Economic development
  • Security, justice and peace, and
  • Climate change, adaptation and mitigation.

The idea is for all departments to “orient their programs, projects, and activities towards the pursuit of these five (5) key result areas” and to “set concrete and measurable targets per program and/or project every year until 2016 leading to the intended outcomes.”

In other words, it seems that the Palace has finally gotten on the ball to convert its plattitudes into a plan for moving the nation forward, something that I have been harping on for the last few weeks needed to be done.

Finally! But why did it take so long?

It gets interesting

The process for converting these thematic key results areas into a cascade of objectives, targets, outcomes and outputs with aligned strategies, programs, projects and budgets is now set to commence. This will presumably be influenced by government’s engagement with the different sectors which should allow for electronic and social media interaction and town-hall type, community cabinet sessions.

Once the elements of the plan have been bedded down, then the administration ought to trumpet the plan to the public and make available successive monitoring reports and scorecards (online possibly). This is where we might start to see how disparate programs hang together within an overall strategic framework.

This should be the start of a more intelligent conversation over what the agenda is or should be and how to define success. My personal experience in this, having worked in a state government that has adopted a strategic plan is that more than just the strategic targets and objectives is the thinking that goes on behind it. This should start to generate new ideas, particularly if a performance management framework is attached to it.

Because a certain amount of risk aversion and “gaming” the system inevitably will occur, it is essential that whoever manages the strategic process is able to challenge the proponents. It would be essential to get someone who can remain “above the fray” in a sense, a “primus inter pares” or “first among equals”. I have my own view as to who this should be.

Hopefully it does not take another year for us to see meat on the bones of this skeletal framework, but it is good to see that finally, bit by bit, things are starting to fall into place.

Feedback and advice

Given their intention to solicit feedback from the public, I cannot let this opportunity slip without offering my 2 cents worth of advice on the plan so far. There are three points, I would like to make.

Firstly I would like to start with the vision, which states

Our vision is a country with:

A re-awakened sense of right and wrong, through the living examples of our highest leaders;

An organised and widely-shared rapid expansion of our economy through a government dedicated to honing and mobilizing our people’s skills and energies as well as the responsible harnessing of our natural resources;

A collective belief that doing the right thing does not only make sense morally, but translates into economic value as well; and

Public institutions rebuilt on the strong solidarity of our society and its communities.

My reaction to this would be: c’mon, guys, seriously…for real?! Premising the vision on “a re-awakened sense of right and wrong” sounds a bit moralistic, preachy and condescending. I know it was cut and pasted from the LP’s social compact, but the vision has to be more positive, inclusive and expansive; this sounds parochial. Given how the government is trying to steer the debate over reproductive health away from theology, this vision has a whole set of dogmatics painted all over it.

It is time for the administration to pivot away from retribution. This has led them to spend the last year achieving hardly anything…well just two things, really: the Merci impeachment and the GOCC reform bill. Rather than just being a one trick pony since the public is showing signs of discontent, it needs to govern on behalf of the entire nation, not just its flock or peeps. Here’s a newsflash: you’ve won already! It is time to situate good governance (code for going after Arroyo) within a broader policy agenda and reflect this in the vision.

Secondly, it may seem trivial, but the acronym PDP forms the the prefix of the party of the vice president who belongs to one faction within the administration. Is this meant to signal something? It sounds like someone is pulling a prank here. My view is that there needs to be a separate strategic plan as distinct from the medium term development plan anyway.

Perhaps PSP for Philippine Strategic Plan or PSRM for Philippine Strategic Roadmap would be more fitting. And drop the 2010-2016 bit. The strategic plan should envision where we hope the nation to be 20, 30, 40 years from now and look at how to lift our trajectory to get there much sooner with action items for the next five to ten years.

Thirdly (and this is a positive comment for the most part), I think the themes cover most of the bases. I can see how most of our externally committed goals with the UN Millennium Development process to close the gaps on education, health and poverty would slot in nicely under the human development and poverty alleviation theme for instance. The country’s commitments to reduce its carbon footprint and gain funding from the global fund set up by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change could fit nicely under the climate change, mitigation and adaptation theme.

I can see how the remaining themes could look at our standing in externally published scorecards, like the cost of doing business, global competitiveness report, corruption perception index, impunity index, and others to set up some targets around how we can close the gap or increase our ratings vis-a-vis the ASEAN-5, Developing Asia or some other reference peer group that would be appropriate.

I assume the DILG will use a performance management system with LGUs to reward those that meet their human development and poverty alleviation goals and quarantine their spending of IRAs for certain areas if they fail to do so. I also predict that Industry and Agricultural boards and councils will be used to work out how to achieve higher rates of investment, production and exports to cover the economic development targets.

All this is possible, but it does not quite tackle the problem of making our finances sustainable in the long-run. That has to be a separate process that should run parallel to the strategic plan. I reiterate my recommendation for a sustainable budget commission or SBC to review the tax and spend programs of the government under this plan and to propose ways to re-balance it so that we can afford to meet our targets.

The sorts of things this commission should be able to tell us are

  1. under the present zero based budgeting approach or ZBB adopted by the government, what we can realistically afford to do,
  2. compared to a program based budgeting approach or PBB, how much we really need to hit our targets, and how big a funding gap there is, and
  3. based on the imbalances, what form of tax reform measures would be needed to fill the gap.

My proposal is for the SBC to make its recommendations before the mid-term elections of 2013. By then we would be able to see how well we are travelling with respect to our 2016 targets. If it appears that we are significantly behind on a wide range of objectives, it would bolster the case for significant changes to the tax system that I have made elsewhere. The administration could then present its case at the next election and seek a mandate for a fully costed social contract by saying even with a reasonably honest government, tax collections are still too low.

A positive step

The commencing of a cabinet reorganization, rather than the reshuffle everyone was expecting, is a positive development. It sets the tone as the benign one enters his second year in office. I made known previously that I was not a big fan of the cabinet clusters as a substitute to full cabinet deliberations. Under this set up though, there is an over-arching framework where it sits. This to me is a sign that perhaps the administration is pivoting away from personality based factionalism and moving towards objectives based management.

In the final analysis, what they say is true, those who fail to plan, plan to fail. It took them long enough, but at least now, we know the direction they are heading as far as setting up a process for governing the agenda and seeing it through.