• Unleashing common sense

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    Mike Wootton

    Mike Wootton

    NAIA 1 is an awful place, but in fairness there are worse airports in the world. Flying used to be quite something to look forward to: packing, off to the airport, the flight itself, arriving in different places. I’ve caught a few planes by simply arriving at the airport and running across the tarmac to get on board before they took the steps away, show my ticket to the cabin staff and off we go . . .

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    But now, 30 years or so and a few hijackings and discoveries of explosive chemicals in somebody’s shoes later, the whole experience is just something to be avoided and if the experience involves traveling through NAIA 1 it is absolutely to be avoided. The air conditioner broke down at the start of the Easter holiday travel rush. People passed out in the heat and congestion, making an experience which is at the very best a major trial, an unmitigated nightmare. The air conditioner couldn’t be repaired “because we have very strict bidding rules here in the Philippines—you cannot buy air conditioning units, just like that”—can anybody imagine a more naive or self-defeating excuse? No event is of sufficient importance to be able to avoid the red tape of government procurement and its tedious and most likely corruption prone processes? What you [should]do if you happen to be in charge of the air conditioner at NAIA1 and it breaks down at a rush period in hot weather is what any responsible manager would do: you get it fixed and if that means buying some new units you just buy them. But to take such a unilateral decision here in the Philippines would probably get the person taking it fired, so the decision is not taken and the consequences are taken by those who have to travel, and the Philippines brazenly advertises itself as untrusting of its people and as hostage to byzantine processes regardless of the circumstances.

    For sure a nation without trust cannot prosper and the Philippines continually exhibits many signs of being a society without trust. Oddly enough the procedures which are supposed to avoid unfair or improper practice are conceived and legislated by those who themselves are in many cases demonstrably not to be trusted! The existence of these procedures does not work to bring about a public perception of clean and honest dealing; they just engender yet more skepticism.

    Of course there are bad people in every society but other nations seem to manage their sorting out the good from the bad, the “wheat from the chaff” without the necessity to so overtly and obviously implement the assumption that everybody is guilty until they can categorically prove their “innocence”. Is there something wrong with society here that it has to operate as if everybody is a crook and a liar?

    There is really no excuse for failing to fix the air conditioner at NAIA 1. I mean should it really need the approval of the President of the nation [which, by the way, apparently would likely not have been given] to go out and get some new air conditioning units to replace broken down ones? What a sad situation.

    So few people are empowered to do anything positive and meaningful and so many people are empowered to stop things happening. There is a reluctance to take responsibility. Procedures are needed and lots of committees in order to avoid the risk of being penalized for making a mistake and in order that in this mistrusting society everybody can be watched by everybody else and blame [if things go wrong]can be heaped on anybody rash enough to actually do something on their own initiative in the best interests of the majority or the objective whatever it may be.

    Project management, meaning the management of the design and construction of major engineering projects, would not succeed if a committee was in charge of day to day activities and every management decision had to go through an obstacle course of checks by many different people before it could be implemented. Rules are needed but they don’t need to be totally immutable to be followed regardless of the circumstances. Managerial common sense is allowed and so long as a reasonable justification can be given to reasonable people then departures from the rules can be allowed in the interests of achieving the agreed objective.

    People need to be encouraged more to think for themselves within a broad framework of rules and procedures and they need to be trusted to more times than not come up with the best answer, and when as will happen they come up with the wrong answer, aggressive vilification is not the way to correct things.

    The Philippines does a good job of suppressing people’s capabilities through regulatory micro management and fear of the potential and often draconian consequences of getting it wrong. There is so much latent initiative and capability here among these 100 million; if only it could be encouraged to blossom then we would have real stellar GDP growth without the need to fudge the numbers . . .

    Mike can be contacted am mawootton@gmail.com

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