Performance review

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan - The Philippine Star

This love month, Malacañang is in no loving mood. It has launched a performance review of all presidential appointees, “to ensure that those who are qualified will remain in office.”

Covered by the Feb. 2 memo–randum issued by the Presidential Management Staff are those appointed before Feb. 1 last year to national government agencies as well as government-owned and controlled corporations, government financial institutions and state universities and colleges.

 Because of the timing of the memorandum and the dates covered by the appointments being reviewed, there’s speculation that it’s a purge of those appointed during the short-lived stint of Vic Rodriguez, who quit in September 2022 as President Marcos’ first executive secretary.

The Palace memorandum was released just days after Rodriguez was spotted at the anti-Charter change rally staged in Davao City by the Dutertes and their supporters on Jan. 28, as BBM was launching his “Bagong Pilipinas” in Manila’s Rizal Park. 

Presidential appointees serve at the pleasure of the appointing power, so Malacañang doesn’t even need documentation or a performance audit to get rid of them. Malacañang said the performance review is not a purge, but even if it is, it’s the President’s prerogative.

BBM should put the review power of the executive to better use, by institutionalizing an efficient performance audit not only of all national agencies but also of local government units (LGUs). 

Devolution has created so many independent republics across the country, with different rules and requirements for doing business and a host of other activities. Even barangay officials, who are authorized by law to collect various types of fees and raise their own funds, can behave like tin-pot dictators in their turfs.

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The powers already enjoyed by LGUs were further expanded by a joint circular approved on Jan. 8, 2015 by the Commission on Audit, the Department of Budget and Management, Department of the Interior and Local Government, Governance Commission for GOCCs and Department of National Defense.

Joint Circular No. 2015-01 allows confidential and/or intelligence funds for LGUs “whose peace and order is a priority concern and which have duly allocated CF, but not IF, in their annual appropriation ordinances.”

The amount for the secret funds must be included in the LGU’s Peace and Order and Public Safety plan, which must have a specific appropriation in the LGU’s annual budget. The CF computation will be based on this budget for peace and order.

You can see the abuse of this circular in the P460 million in secret funds allocated annually to Davao City when Sara Duterte was its mayor and her father was president. What was the priority peace and order concern in the city? Did secret funds finance the death squads?

Government service in our country is focused on fund-raising and personal profit rather than the efficient delivery of basic services. Roads and bridges, for example, are built and even traffic lights installed to benefit the businesses of local political kingpins or their supporters, for whom there is no red tape.

This focus on fund-raising rather than public service is evident even in traffic management, as shown in the implementation of the no-contact traffic apprehension scheme. Under the NCAP, the goal of enforcers is not to keep traffic flowing smoothly but to penalize motorists even for minor infractions and collect stiff fines (with the lion’s share going to a private company).

In dealing with businesses, from micro enterprises to large job-generating investments, every office from the barangay to the national agency with jurisdiction over the sector imposes requirements that entail fees.

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Even if the deadlines set by law for completing transactions with the government are strictly followed (three, seven and 20 days depending on the complexity), the rule is applied at every step of the process. And the entire process, from the barangay to the national agency, can entail 500 steps.

After the pandemic lockdowns, I resumed meetings with officials and investors from different countries. They all told me similar stories, about their investors assessing business prospects in the Philippines, and being turned off by the mountain of red tape and confusing rules from one LGU to the next, and between LGUs and national agencies.

 President Marcos can set economic and other human development targets for the LGUs, and assess their performance based on how these targets are met within a particular period. How much has local GDP grown? How many enterprises were launched or expanded and how many and what types of jobs were created? Is per capita income growing? Are students performing well in public schools? How many patients were served in government health centers, and what types of health care services are available? Is there widespread internet access? Safe water and sanitation? What is the peace and order situation?

 Those who meet the targets can be rewarded with more national infrastructure projects, for example, or priority for cold storage and post-harvest facilities in agricultural areas, or selection as venue for major conferences that stimulate the local economy.

Malacañang can also reward the LGU achievers with the speedy release of their national revenue share by the Department of Budget and Management. This is no trivial matter; Congress may have the power of approving budget allocations, but it’s Malacañang, through the DBM, that green-lights fund releases.

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Businessmen who face the Senate today will surely express support for the lifting of economic restrictions in the Constitution. But they should also be asked about what more must be done – what can be done – even without Charter change. Cha-cha is no silver bullet for foreign investments.

While at the Senate, the businessmen may also want to give their views about politicizing wage setting, and the impact on business, especially the micro and small entrepreneurs who make up over 90 percent of businesses in this country, of legislating an across-the-board wage increase that populist senators are pushing.

If we want to attract more investments, Congress should get out of wage-setting, the issuance of business franchises, and other matters that allow lawmakers to hold investors hostage to their myopic self-interest.

And a performance review is needed for LGUs. The concept of devolution itself must be revisited. Under the current set-up, we have incoherent, unpredictable, rent-seeking governance, with little public accountability.

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