Maybe what we are looking at here is the reverse of the Midas touch.
In Greek legend, King Midas was given the power by the god Dionysus to turn everything he touched into gold,
In Philippine public life, Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV appears to have the unusual power or curse of tarnishing and staining everything he comes in contact with, including ideas and words, and seemingly innocent and perfectly legal occupations.
After he performed “back-channeling” services for President Aquino in China, our relations with that country shortly deteriorated to the mess it is today. Nobody wants to use the term “back-channel” anymore. What knowledgeable people and diplomats use today is the term “track 2 diplomacy,” whose pedigree and usefulness are well-recognized.
After Trillanes, in partnership with Senators Alan Peter Cayetano and Aquilino Pimentel III, launched the Blue Ribbon subcommittee inquiry into anything suspicious in Vice President Jejomar Binay’s “past, present and future,” this much- respected mechanism of congressional inquiry and oversight was never the same again.
The trio’s inquiry has become an inquisition without end, stretching now over a year and costing a bundle of public money. There’s a serious clamor to change names from “ blue ribbon” to “yellow ribbon” to put credit where it is due – his Excellency President Benigno Aquino 3rd.
Now, with the eruption of the consultants’ controversy starring Trillanes, the entire profession and industry of consulting has been placed under a cloud.
Some friends of mine who are seriously engaged, as entrepreneurs and professionals, in the multi-million consulting industry are appalled by the hammer blows that their profession is absorbing from the unfolding Senate scandal. They fear that consulting could become Humpty Dumpty; it could be damaged irreparably.
Consulting, a profession and an industry
I decided to write this column not to make an invidious comparison between Senator Trillanes’s reported 63 consultants and the professional and honest-to-goodness consultants who earn a fair living – but to undertake a defense of a serious profession and industry, whose work and service enables private and public organizations to operate effectively.
But first, some facts and figures. According to the classic guide on consulting, “How to Make It Big As a Consultant”, written by a top practicioner, William A. Cohen, Ph.D, a consultant may be defined as follows:
“A consultant is simply anyone who gives advice or performs other services of a professional or semi-profesional nature in return for compensation.
“It is not necessary to have an advanced degree to be a consultant, although the orientation of a consultant is clearly professional.”
There are consultants attached to large consulting firms; and there are also independent consultants who operate individually.
The world’s foremost independent consultant used to be Peter Drucker, the father of modern management. They don’t come any better or more formidable than him.
In terms of business volume, the size of the consulting industry is estimated at $10 to $15 billion annually in the US. In the Philippines, estimates place the industry as worth at least several hundred million.
Worldwide consulting revenues are estimated to now reach $100 billion annually.
Transmogrifying a legitimate expense
There is an incipient consultants’ scandal in the Senate because the practice of hiring consultants, like the pork barrel, has been abused by the senators, and in some cases transmogrified.
The scandal was triggered by a report from the Commission on Audit (COA), which complained to the Senate leadership that the chamber was exceeding limits in spending on consultants, and that there was a lack of supporting papers concerning the hired consultants.
Senator Trillanes, it appears, expends P1.63 million a month for consultants that include his houseboy, family drivers, media workers, campaign donors, ex-mutineer friends, and a brother, who is paid P71,200 a month.
The camp of vice-president Jejomar Binay, who has been reeling from all the charges of wrongdoing made by Trillanes against Binay, has seized upon the issue to make Trillanes fry in his own fat.
“The use of public funds for his personal benefit is clearly unethical, immoral and a blatant abuse of his office,” says Rico Quicho, Binay’s spokesman for political affairs. “The taxpayers are paying for his household expenses and his personal ‘debts’.”
Trillanes in reply insists that he has committed no irregularity in paying consultancy fees to persons who helped him discharge his duties as a senator.
“All we’re doing is authorized and legal based on the guidelines provided by COA,” he said. “There is nothing illegal or unauthorized in what we are doing because we were given the discretion on how to spend our budget.”
But Quicho challenged Trillanes to explain why he used Senate funds to reward two people—Robert Fong and Fabian Go–who contributed P500,000 each to his campaign in 2013.
It gets worse.
According Jojo Robles, in a column in the Standard, he learned from a very reliable source that only one member of Trillanes’ staff has been receiving, in a lump sum, all the monthly consultancy fees allocated for his office. All the consultants in Trillanes’ employ have signed special powers of attorney allowing this staff member to receive their salaries for them.
Needed: Guidelines for hiring consultants
The controversy in the Senate underlines the glaring need for clear rules and guidelines in the contracting or hiring of consultants by Congress. Leaving the matter entirely to the senators and congressmen to decide is unsatisfactory and prone to abuse.
Quicho has cited Civil Service Commission (CSC) Resolution 000831 which defines a consultant as one “who provides professional advice on matters within the field of his special knowledge or training.”
The General Appropriations Act (GAA) allows consultancy service “when a consultant or expert is an acknowledged authority in his field of specialization” and “when the consultant or expert is hired to perform a specific activity or services that require technical skill and expertise which local labor force cannot provide, or if such expertise is available, the supply is limited.”
Parañaque Rep. Gus Tambunting believes that Congress should pass a law that will clearly provide guidelines on the hiring of consultants.
This is the way to go, if Congress’ need for expert and professional consultancy services is to be filled.
Until this happens, consultancy must live with the curse of the Trillanes touch.