Mindset of a regulator

Published October 25, 2018, 12:00 AM

by manilabulletin_admin

Melito Salazar Jr.
Melito S. Salazar Jr.

Early this month, Department of Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol disputed the Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque that President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the “unimpeded” importation of rice to tame soaring inflation. Piñol clarified, “I understand the confusion stemmed from the statement…which was understood by many as simply brushing off all other requirements and just bringing your rice. Its not gonna happen that way, there are still requirements that must be met like sanitary and phytosanitary…You can’t just bring in rice without you know, just having yourself as an importer of rice. These are the regular requirements.”

Now, that’s the mindset of a regulator- faced with a crisis, he focuses on the rules and restricts rather than facillitate importation. Most probably, he will start with a long list of requirements, delete a few and declare he has helped “ease the cost of doing business”. Such an approach is most convenient for the regular clients of the agency but extremely difficult for new players. The reverse of starting from scratch and adding the needed requirements will result in a shorter list but will encourage more players and greater competition accomplishing faster the objective set by President Duterte.

It is not only in DA or NFA; it is not only Sec. Piñol, it’s the bureucracy and many bureaucrats who have the mindset of regulators. Its about time this mindset is changed along with other characteristics. A discussion paper on “What Makes a Regulator Excellent?” presented by Shelly Metzenbaum and Gaurav Vasisht of the Volcker Alliance at the University of Pennsylvania Law School is most instructive. Relevant excerpts drive home the point.

“Knowledge in five key areas are necessary- agency’s core mission and specific legislated objectives, where you stand Internally and externally, likely root causes of the problem, their import and susceptabilty to influence, your own ability to drive the change and how past problems were resolved, both trends and results.

Skills and traits. Be comfortable taking bold (yet informed) action in the face of harsh criticism. See multiple perspectives. Have the ability to see both the forest and the trees. Be flexible, creative and swift in problem solving. Be comfortable with criticism (you will be criticized by associations, Congress and others for the tough decisions you make; your succesor will receive the credits). Timidity does not work, particularly if there are known problems that require time sensitive solutions.”

It helps when the organizational culture is supportive. One needs a strong leadership committed to change (Ang pagbabago promised by Candidate Duterte), since cultural problems run deep in regulatory agencies. Engaging with the industry as to their business model will give you an understanding of the changes in your agency that will help them achieve their corporate goals. Be prepared to share information to the industry so they appreciate where they are in terms of similar industries regionally and globally. Have well informed, well considered regulatory flexibilty that meets both agency objectives and industry interests. Recognize the contributions of your staff to change and back them when needed. Even a note of encouragement helps; I have discovered there is no such thing as a simple gesture of thanks as the recipient takes it as special.

The rice problem presents an opportunity for the regulators to change their mindset. It can mean refiguring the organizational culture of the Department of Agriculture and the National Food Authority that will make both partners with the farmers and traders (who are always depicted as the BAD guys). Working together will mean a better life for the farmers and ample supply at reasonable prices for the Filipino consumer. Ito ang pagbabago hinahanap ng lahat!

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