(Second of two parts)
In the last column, I outlined how the Philippines’ approach to choosing the leaders of key government agencies is essentially flawed; applying a political process for professional positions is another kind of “4 P’s” that is doing the country far more harm than good.
The major obstacle to fixing it, however, is that much of the ineffective process is enshrined in the Constitution, which makes anything more than superficial change difficult if not impossible.
A better framework for choosing the country’s top executives can minimize the impact on the Constitution, but because that better framework must impose some clear parameters on the President’s current broad appointment powers and alter the role of the Commission on Appointments, at the very least the magic six-word “patch” attributed (or so I’ve heard) to Rene Saguisag—“except as otherwise provided by law”—is going to have to be applied in the appropriate places.
At the national level, the framework should be initially applied to the Cabinet-level offices subject to approval by the Commission on Appointments and the positions of chairman and chief executive officer in government-owned and -controlled corporations (GOCCs). There are presently 22 Cabinet positions, but two of those, executive secretary and press secretary, could be exempted as their service is to the Office of the President more so than the people of the Philippines. According to information from the Department of Finance, there are currently 95 GOCCs, although a couple of those, such as the National Agribusiness Corp. (Nabcor), have been marked for dissolution in the wake of the ongoing “pork barrel” scandal.
The first step that should be undertaken is a review of the “political” requirements that are generally applied to all these different positions, and which are described either in the Constitution, in the charters of the GOCCs, or in other laws. These are requirements that address ethical matters such as citizenship and residency, conflicts of interest, the timing of appointments (e.g., the ban on so-called midnight appointments), and financial and other personal disclosures required of appointees. The job of reviewing these requirements can be handled by the Commission on Appointments, and while the appropriate guidelines already exist (although adhering to them seems to be a challenge), recent revelations of the corporate ties of many foreign affairs officials and the absolute mess made of the appointment of erstwhile National Food Authority head Orlan Calayag show that there is a grave need for a review and possibly some adjustments to the prescriptions.
The next step also involves the Commission on Appointments, in this case working together with executives and managers from each of the Cabinet departments and GOCCs. A formal job description for each of the positions must be developed; these already exist for the most part, but in some cases are simply inferred, and for almost every position are completely unknown to the public. The people have the right to know exactly what is expected of the executives appointed to the agencies that actually deliver services for the country; their representatives on the Commission on Appointments can to see to it they are informed.
The third step requires the engagement of professionals, and this is the step that will rub the politicians the wrong way, because it will lead to an appointment process that severely limits their discretion in endorsing or appointing agency executives. Once the formal job description for each appointed position is adopted, a corresponding detail of job qualifications needs to be produced. A committee can be formed from representatives of the various chambers of commerce, industry and professional associations, universities, and institutions such as the Asian Development Bank and the Philippine Institute for Development Studies to undertake this task. This would establish requirements for technocratic competence in government positions, and would reduce the Commission on Appointments’ workload by essentially reducing their hearing process to completing a checklist: Does the nominee satisfy the political requirements? Does he or she have the requisite academic and career record for the position in question? If the answer is no for either of those two questions, then another candidate must be presented.
Finally, the most important step would be to remove the option of “bypassing” or deferring a nomination on the Commission on Appointments’ part. Having clear, formal (and publicly disclosed) qualifications available for every appointed position removes any ambiguity from the process; a nominee is either qualified or he is not, and if not, should not be permitted to assume or continue in an important position.
From the government’s point of view, the great advantage to the regularity of this framework is in building credibility. Any dissent with the policies being carried out by government institutions become political, so long as the process is adhered to; the people responsible for carrying those policies out are objectively qualified, therefore any contentious issue will not be one of competence or performance. And the appointed executives will have a very great incentive to perform well, because the opposite side of the coin is that the process allows the President to hang them out to dry to protect the integrity of the government as a whole: If the process has been correctly followed and an agency head still performs badly or unethically, that is his personal failure, not a failure of the system that put him there.