The anti-management clinic

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Ben D. Kritz

Ben D. Kritz

We do not give the officials of the Aquino Administration enough credit. They deserve more credit, because if the rest of us were actually paying attention, we would quickly realize that they provide us with at least one sublime, innovative, and stunningly effective lesson in institutional or process management every single day.

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For anyone who strives to become an excellent manager or executive, the path is very easy to follow: All we need to do is to carefully observe how Administration officials perform on a daily basis . . . and then do whatever it is that is the complete opposite of that.

This week’s Diamond-level lesson comes to us through the efforts of Atty. Winston Gines, chairman of the Land Transportation and Franchising Regulatory Board (LTFRB), the agency responsible for regulating road-bound public transit conveyances such as buses, jeepneys, and taxis.

A little over two months ago, Makati Mayor Jejomar Erwin “Jun” Binay offered some minor, but still very much welcome, relief to persecuted commuters at the mercy of the rapidly-deteriorating Metro Rail Transit (MRT) line in the form of a fleet of six city-owned buses providing free rides on weekday mornings between North Avenue-Edsa and Ayala Avenue. The first reaction of the LTFRB was to inform Makati city officials that they must apply for a franchise for the new service, a move that was instantly criticized by the public as being unnecessarily bureaucratic, but actually made a certain amount of sense. Even though the Makati service was not a commercial operation, the LTFRB has a mandate to register and oversee public buses—notwithstanding the agency’s evident difficulties in catching up with the vast number of unregulated buses that ply Metro Manila’s roads and occasionally kill people—and whether a bus is operated by the City of Makati or someone else, it is the agency’s responsibility to make sure the bus complies with applicable regulations and is being operated safely.

On May 21, however, the LTFRB’s Gines apparently decided that his agency was falling short in the “achieving an inanimate object level of stupidity” metric, and so he signed an order requiring riders of the free Makati bus service to present identification from a Makati-based business and to buy a one-way MRT ticket (worth P10 to P15) before being allowed to board the buses. The public only learned about the new rule on Wednesday, when the Interaksyon TV website reported on the filing of a Motion for Reconsideration (under a headline that began, appropriately enough, with “WHAAAAT?!”) by the Makati City Attorney’s office.

Coincidentally, right about the time Interaksyon was posting the story, the MRT suffered its second major breakdown in as many days, resulting (again) in the entire northern half of the line between Shaw Boulevard and North Avenue being taken out of service for a period of time.

The LTFRB ruling was so astonishing (the article from the normally very conventional Interaksyon described as an “unbelievable imposition”) that a sizable number of readers are understandably still not completely convinced that it was not some kind of cruel hoax. Others believe the LTFRB move is little more than Winston Gines’ particularly moronic contribution to the ongoing campaign seeking to sabotage the Binay family; Vice President Jejomar Binay is widely assumed to be the prohibitive favorite for the presidency in 2016.

Gines has been accused by some of having some sort of “arrangement” with the management of the beleaguered MRT Corp., which is the reason for the strange requirement that bus riders should buy a train ticket. This explanation only makes sense, though, if the usual high standards for profitability in institutional graft have been drastically lowered; based on ridership estimates from Mayor Binay, MRT revenue from tickets bought by bus riders would be, at best, about P7,500 per day.

The most likely reasoning, if in fact there is any actual reasoning at all behind the LTFRB order, is that since the Makati bus service was created with the specific goal of relieving a small part of the MRT ridership burden, the MRT should then be compensated for that small loss. Which is ridiculous, since the maximum daily revenue that could be generated by the bus service (Makati plans to add four more buses to the original six, boosting capacity to about 800 passengers per day) is only equivalent to about four minutes’ worth of losses incurred by the MRT on its own during its frequent breakdowns and delays. And it could also be pointed out that the thousands of other public transportation vehicles plying the same Edsa route as the MRT are not subjected to the same demand to subsidize the rail service – a service, it is worth noting, which is not even part of the LTFRB’s area of responsibility.

So what have we learned from this ludicrous decision? First, if your department or agency has functions and responsibilities that can have a direct positive impact on a crisis in another part of your organization, do not promulgate rules or processes to make that crisis worse; particularly if there is not even so much as a vague hint in your own operating mandate that the rules you wish to impose are legal, or within your purview to create. The very best response you could possibly hope to get from doing something like that is to have a major news website publish an unflattering picture of you under a mocking headline, while writers at major newspapers struggle mightily to report the story without using terms like “retarded” and “Gary Busey-level insanity” (because that would be unprofessional).

What managers can do instead is take a lesson from Mayor Binay’s playbook, a small example of what is called creating social value (CSV)—incurring an operating cost for the purpose of creating a social benefit with a much larger return, albeit an indirect one.

Assisting some workers and visitors to reach their destinations in Makati at the city’s own expense, as the mayor has pointedly said, has the benefit of supporting (or at least, ameliorating a bit of the losses caused by the MRT’s dysfunction) city enterprises and the workforce and supply chains they in turn support.

I sincerely hope that if Winston Gines’ entry to the Stupidest Ideas Anyone Has Ever Had contest has not already been quickly and quietly withdrawn, the City of Makati refuses to abide by the new LTFRB rules. They are indeed an “unbelievable imposition,” they serve no purpose but to create hardship, and are clear evidence that the taxes and fees from Filipino citizens and businesses which are used to fund the operations of the LTFRB and pay the salary of its baffling director are being utterly wasted.

benkritz@outlook.com

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