Stronger institutions

published 04 May 2013, MST page A5
These days, institutions take a backseat to individuals.
It is nine days before elections and many of us are busy evaluating individuals running for various national and local positions in government.
The natural tendency is to look at each candidate for his or her own merits. How is the track record? The knowledge of issues? Affiliation, or lack thereof, to other politicians?
Indeed it seems far-fetched to be focusing on anything aside from the personalities of these individuals at this time.
But the business of governing is not entirely about politics and politicians. Key government agencies are run by individuals whose names don’t quite ring a bell and who work long hours away from the limelight.
The Institute of Solidarity for Asia held its Public Governance Forum last March 19, bringing together numerous public agencies, some national and some local, that have embraced the Performance Governance System.
The system is not a vague, feel-good invocation of big, fancy words. It is a method that involves determining a mission/vision, outlining targets, plotting the actions needed to get to the destination, including their timing.  It also involves periodic assessment of progress.
That gathering’s theme was “Kickoff: The Race to 2015.” Why 2015?  On that year, the Philippines will take the chairmanship of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and will host the series of meetings of representatives of member-countries.
The organizers of the forum said this is a make-or-break event that would show whether the Philippines has already significantly gained the capacity and the competitiveness it lacked before. A successful hosting with infrastructure and services with post—Apec use, livable cities, policies aligned to Philippine priorities and a perception that the Philippines is modern and progressive—the place to be and a place to invest in.
There have been gains, to be sure, but we continue to be a work in progress.
The sports analogy was not lost on the National Competitiveness Council, whose private sector co-chairman Guillermo Luz was one of the speakers during the forum.
The competition is for investments, trade, tourists, and even people—Filipinos who decide whether or not they should stay here and wait for better times or take matters into their own hands and venture into other countries hoping to earn more.
It’s a game of image and branding—one that we will not win if we do not have an inherently good product to begin with.
Right now, Luz said, one of the weak spots is our political system. The election that is taking place just illustrates our lack of organization, poor choice and limited options.
“How can you expect a good meal from a bad menu?” he asked.
He suggested asking candidates, in public gatherings, the real tough questions like which economic provisions in the Constitution they wish changed.
The gathering also underscored the importance of opening up the economy, not only to money from foreigners, but expertise, as well.
Unfortunately, continuity is not a strong suit among our national and local leaders.  We often hear stories of how incumbent officials demonize their predecessors and discontinue his or projects, even the worthy ones, just because the new leaders want to build their own legacy and give all projects their own stamp.
But the governance system that the ISA tries to guide the government agencies through enables them to focus on the essence and the substance of programs rather than the personalities behind them.
There were several organizations who made a presentation about their progress pertaining to the scorecard system. There were executive agencies, local government units, independent commissions and government-owned and -controlled corporations. The police and the military were also there.
Next week I will write about one fairly new government commission that made a presentation during the forum.