DOWNSIZE BLOATED BUREAUCRACY

Photo courtesy of the Manila Bulletin

 

SIZE does matter but in the government, a bloated bureaucracy could mean more problems resulting in long queues, rude clerks, delays and mistakes in the processing of vital documents and never ending tales of red tape.

With 1.3-million workforce, the country’s civil service is the Philippines’ largest employer even as payments for personnel services take the biggest chunk in the government’s annual national budget. 

The sad fact however is that majority of those in the government service are not qualified and unprepared to do their jobs since many of them are political appointees.

This so-called padrino system or patronage politics not only spawns inefficiency and corruption but also robs more deserving employees due recognition resulting to subpar and mediocre public service.

 

Inefficient Machinery

Downsizing therefore is in order because the Philippine bureaucracy has become one big, bloated, inefficient machinery and what the public needs is a lean but mean and efficient civil servants.

Hardly a day goes by without a complaint to authorities or on social media about government employees idling away on their jobs, being rude to their clients, or incompetently handling their duties.

They’re just one of the symptoms of a problem the national government has only recently realized: it’s now high time to prune the branches off a Civil Service that has gotten too big for both government and public to handle. 

 

Steps in the Senate 

These are just one of the issues Senators Loren Legarda and Vicente Sotto III are now trying to address through Senate Bills 1162 and 1167, which sought to enhance the government’s institutional capacity to improve the delivery of basic public services. 

SB No. 1162, in brief, seeks to “rightsize” all government agencies and institutions, and corporations by empowering them, through a Committee on Rightsizing the National Government, to “merge, streamline, abolish or privatize” any redundant department or corporation.

Legarda’s bill also calls for a simplification of government operations for agencies to focus fully on their mandates and facilitate the speedy delivery of basic services. 

The bill, furthermore, urges a complete reorganization of agencies and calls for an appropriate staffing based on the employees’ skills and capabilities to carry out their duties. 

“This Rightsizing Bill seeks to address these concerns and aims to improve government efficiency through a leaner, cleaner, and more competent bureaucracy,” Legarda declared during a Senate speech on February 21.

 

Statistics

During her speech, Legarda noted that even President Rodrigo Duterte in his inaugural speech expressed concern over the size of the Civil Service. 

According to statistics forwarded by Legarda, the national government now has 186 departments from 176 in 2000.

For 2017, 29.57% of the P3.35 trillion national budget (or P990.5 billion) is allocated for Personnel Services (PS), an increase from 2016’s 27.05% equivalent to P812 billion and 2015’s 28.62% or around P746 billion. 

 

Rapid Growth

It goes without saying that the Philippine bureaucracy has been expanding at a rate “faster than the Philippine population,” according to a Senate Economic Planning Office paper published in 2005.

From 1960 to 1997, the population of the country’s Civil Service increased by 160 percent while government personnel more than doubled in size – from only 360,000 in 1960 to 1.37 million in 1997 (282%). 

Moreover, over a 30-year period, the ratio of government personnel to population has considerably increased from one civil servant for every 90 Filipinos in 1970 to one government employee for every 50 people in 2001, the paper noted.

The resulting rapid growth in the Civil Service has put pressure on the capability of the government to pay its wages, according to SEPO. 

For several years, personnel services continue to account for more than 30 percent of the budget, and compared to four ASEAN countries, the Philippines has the highest wage bill as a percentage of total expenditure.

 

Worst in Asia

Unfortunately, the phrase “the more, the merrier” cannot be justifiably applied to our country’s civil service system. 

For years, experts and ordinary folk alike had been trying to tell the government that the country’s bureaucracy has become too big for its britches, so to speak.

Policy makers, indeed, have ranked the Philippines’ bureaucracy as being one of the “most inefficient” in Asia.

Way back in 2002, the Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC) ranked the Philippines 8th among the “worst and most frustrating” bureaucracies in the Southeast Asian region, with a score of 8.18.

By 2010, PERC ranked the Philippines third among Asia’s worst bureaucracies with a score of 8.37.

The simple reason is that the Civil Service has, over the years, expanded into agencies with overlapping jurisdictions and redundant functions resulting in confusing regulatory rules, red tape, and inefficient delivery of public goods and services. 

 

Patronage System

And as if the situation can’t get much worse, there’s also the troublesome issue of the so-called “padrino system” where politicians reward their supporters with government posts.  

While the patronage system has existed since pre-colonial times, only in our country’s last one hundred years it had become an entrenched part of the government from the national to local levels.

On one particular case, former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was severely criticized by former CSC commissioner Karina C. David for “abusing her prerogative on government appointments.”

Of some 6,000 executive or managerial positions in government at that time, David pointed out that, 3,500 were appointed by Arroyo – and 60 percent of them were not eligible for civil service. 

The Office of the President (OP) alone has 53 presidential assistants at the time, all of them political appointees with many holding redundant positions.

Due to the padrino system, an estimated 4,000 career eligibles were often passed over by non-career presidential appointees every six years when a new administration takes over. 

The result? Government employees often feel less incentivized to perform their duties. The padrino system led to demoralization and lack of initiative in the civil service. 

“The moment you know that your boss may not like it whenever you try to do something a little bit extra, you kill initiative,” David stressed in 2007. “The bureaucracy is so timid, so tame, so domesticated, so fearful and so powerless because of the appointment process that is so open to abuse.”

 

Reducing Government Fat

What’s happened in our Civil Service system today is just like what happens to a person with too much fat in their bodies. 

The arteries (government agencies) become clogged due to too much fat (bloated bureaucracy), impeding the normal flow of blood (delivery of government systems) in the body (the country as a whole).

And as every two-cent doctor will tell you, such a condition will lead to serious complications such as heart disease and stroke.

That sums up the mess that Senators Legarda and Sotto are trying to combat with Senate Bills No. 1162 and 1167.  

The Philippine bureaucracy has become too bloated that it cannot deliver government services – from complex transactions such as bidding for big-ticket projects to such simple ones as securing a driver’s license.

And when these systems fail, the government fails.

The obvious solution? The government should cut down on “government fat.” Streamline government operations. Reduce the number of redundant agencies and positions. 

As Senator Legarda succinctly put it during her speech, “To continue funding these redundant and outdated agencies is certainly a waste of our limited resources.”

With the Rightsizing Bill, Legarda and other senators are finally giving the government a workout plan of sorts to relieve the country of its bloated bureaucracy. 

 

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