Executive orders

The Plan: Update


The plot thickens; or does it?

On Wednesday, I wrote a piece on the cabinet re-organization, called The Plan, hailing it is a significant positive development in the administration of the benevolent one.

In today’s Inquirer, Amando Doronila seems to think that it is more of the same, saying that it is a factional maneuver by Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, Jr, a member of Camp Binay, preempting the entry of rival camp leader Mar Roxas into the cabinet. Doronila opines that

The adoption of the cluster mechanism was no less a coup staged by Ochoa to fortify his position. It was announced amid statements by the President that he intends to appoint former Sen. Manuel A. Roxas II as chief of staff, a new Cabinet position with still unspecified functions and jurisdiction. The EO explicitly situates the ES at the apex of the Cabinet hierarchy, as the overarching “premier” of the President’s official family. There is no mention in the EO about the position of the chief of staff and the place of Roxas in the nomenclature and Cabinet hierarchy. The EO promulgated by Ochoa, presumably with the approval of the President, is an exclusion order that puts Roxas on notice that he has no place in the Cabinet, or a power base (emphasis added).

The basis for Doronila’s conclusion is the provision under Section 5 of the executive order that promulgates the cabinet restructure, which states

The Executive Secretary and the Secretary of the Presidential Management Staff shall attend all Cluster meetings as regular members, in the performance of their general monitoring and oversight functions (emphasis added).

This is where perhaps Doronila’s logic has gone astray. He seems to be reading too much into the above statement. How the ES goes from being an attendee to all cluster meetings to occupying the ‘apex’ of the process is beyond me. Why does he not make anything of the fact that the head of the Presidential Management Staff is also meant to sit in all the meetings?

Naturally, the President has to stay informed over the deliberations by his cabinet officials to stay on top of the situation. It would naturally mean being represented in all of these meetings by the ES, the PMS head and his communications people.

That is not to say that these representatives will be chairing the meetings or directing the process. The EO specifically designates two department agencies within each cluster, one to chair and the other to manage the secretariat.

May I suggest to those who think along similar lines as the mischievous columnist that the reason why the EO is silent over the role of chief of staff is probably because it hasn’t been created yet. A subsequent EO could well and truly clarify that role.

To me, Doronila is deliberately fanning the flames of factionalism by assuming there is some clandestine agenda in the design of the restructure. He seems to be second-guessing the intentions of players at every turn:

This jigsaw puzzle developed as the President made a great show of the eminent entry of Roxas into the Cabinet with a bicycle caravan around Quezon Circle, dressed in the emblematic yellow color of the administration.

In an ostentatious show of unity that failed to mask the factional infighting within the administration over the spoils of office, the President led the bicycle brigade, with Roxas and Ochoa riding along. There was, however, a sour note in that demonstration. Vice President Jejomar Binay, who defeated Roxas in the May election, did not show up. Ochoa is said to be allied with Binay in the cleavage that divides the administration supporters into two main contending factions.

The fact that the soon to be determined role of the chief of staff was not mentioned in the EO is not to say that when the official appointment comes it will not define his role in this process. Even assuming that the chief of staff is not directly involved in the cluster process (for argument’s sake) does not mean that he cannot make a significant contribution to it.

As a strategist, the chief of staff could look at the process as an outsider who is allowed to think outside the box. The cabinet clusters are designed to create strategies and implement them under current constraints. Those constraints include a budget that at the moment is limited by our current tax system and a set of policies that are in the president’s legislative agenda.

Who is to say that someone with a bird’s eye view cannot look at the overall architecture of the strategy and decide that a structural break or re-design needs to happen.

Doronila makes much of the yet undefined organizational and financial clout the chief of staff will or won’t have. A strategist does not require huge resources to perform that role. It only requires a person daring enough to think in an innovative manner. Ideas don’t require huge bureaucracies, in fact, sometimes heft creates a handicap in this department.

So in the final analysis, what are we to make of EO43? More of the same, or a positive development? Over to you…

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.