LAST week, Malacañang rejected the suggestion, first made by the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP), that a “traffic czar” be appointed to oversee an effort to solve the problem of gridlock around Metro Manila. Instead, explained presidential spokesman Sonny Coloma, the crisis could be better addressed by “inter-agency cooperation.”
We do not often agree with the policy decisions made by this administration, but we do agree with this one, although perhaps not for quite the same reason as Mr. Coloma suggested. A “traffic czar” would not help resolve the traffic mess, which has gone from being a problem to a catastrophe.
For one thing, the Aquino administration has a poor performance record when it comes to “czars.” Former Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan, appointed by President BS Aquino 3rd as “Presidential Assistant for Food Security and Agricultural Modernization” – in effect, a shadow to Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala – has not had any discernible positive impact on the sector. Former Senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson was similarly appointed “czar” over the Typhoon Yolanda recovery and rehabilitation effort, and achieved similar results, although to be fair to Lacson, he was well aware of the outcome and publicly expressed frustration at not being given the tools and authority to do more than to write a long report. Former Energy Secretary and current “Cabinet Secretary” (a position that only seems to exist to allow the man to continue to draw a paycheck, and to allow the President to avoid calling Cabinet meetings with any sort of productive regularity) Rene Almendras has also filled a “czar” role, heading up a “task force” to address the problem of port congestion last year – a problem that largely worked itself out through the cooperation of the port operators, trucking firms, the Bureau of Customs, and the city government of Manila.
Secretary Almendras, in fact, was the name put forth by MAP as a candidate for “traffic czar,” for reasons that are not entirely clear but are irrelevant now that the administration has thumbed down the suggestion in favor of raising expectations that the concerned agencies simply do their jobs for a change. The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board, the Department of Transportation and Communications, and the Department of Public Works and Highways collectively represent a powerful toolbox to deal with the gridlock crisis, and have reams of regulations at their disposal to effectively do so.
That they have been unable to make any headway so far is not due to the absence of a “czar,” but simply a matter of poor management performance: If the leadership of this alphabet soup of agencies is incapable of coordinating with other offices and maintaining consistent enforcement and follow-up to existing rules and regulations without being told to do so, the solution is to directly address those shortcomings – not to add another layer of bureaucracy to the existing problem at additional taxpayer expense.