I came across two recent developments that convey all too clearly the absence of harmony among the key agencies and institutions undertaking the crucial work of addressing the pandemic and its myriad effects on our economy and everyday life.
That we are entering our sixth month under a government-imposed lockdown makes it even more distressing, considering that our ASEAN neighbors have gradually resumed economic and business activities while we are still being told to stay at home.
An online news service claimed in a report that the speaker of the House of Representatives had insisted on including a so-called tourism recovery fund worth P10 billion in the House version of the Bayanihan To Recover As One Act, or Bayanihan 2, to be placed in the budget of the Tourism Infrastructure an Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA). Among the projects to be funded are roads and toilets in several congressional district. The fund, the news service further claimed, is allegedly a parting gift or “pabaon” for his allies. Under an existing term-sharing agreement with another legislator, the Speaker is supposed to step down in November but not without displaying his trademark generosity with the people’s money.
It is a good thing that the Senate did not relent to the House and instead divided the P10 billion, with the bulk going to soft loans for micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises and aid for displaced tourism industry workers. However, the mere fact that the speaker, as usual, sought to dispense precious taxpayers’ money as if it were his personal kitty to reward his political allies smacks of insensitivity to the ordeal of millions of Filipinos. At a time when the national leadership keeps insisting that the government is running out of funds, this display of hubris on the part of the speaker is unforgiveable. He is clearly ignoring the national leadership’s call for a “whole of government approach” to address the pandemic. He is either not listening to the national leadership, or he treats such statements with indifference, putting his personal and political interests ahead of the nation’s.
On the economic front, the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) is demanding a seat in the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF), decrying the lack of cohesion in government’s policies pertaining to the operation of businesses during this pandemic. Certain policies and protocols imposed by the IATF are not only impractical and unrealistic, they insist, but also put at greater risk the very survival of individual businesses.
The PCCI echoed the sentiments of many sectors, that after all these months, the government still does not have a coherent plan to curb the pandemic and revive the economy. We have individual parts performing specific tasks but lacking coherence, motivation, focus, compassion, and leadership.
It puzzles me as a former public manager why government continues to handle the pandemic in an aimless manner.
Managing organizations has often been likened to conducting an orchestra. This applies to both private and public organizations. Needless to state, the conductor performs an indispensable role. A conductor must wield his baton to elicit from his team their best performance. It is not wielded in order to bludgeon the performers into action or inflict pain on the audience. Sadly, this has been our experience ever since government placed us on lockdown in March.
The role of the conductor is to guarantee harmony, to make sure that the members of the orchestra move and sound as an organic whole. Each individual note, tone or timbre from individual musicians should meld into glorious melody. Each musician must be encouraged to perform at his best, and acknowledge that his performance is not an isolated act, but part of a bigger vision.
Using this analogy, organizational excellence is achieved when individual members perform their best under stable and consistent leadership. Without clear objectives imparted to the organization, without unifying core values, and without clear leadership – or in the case of the IATF, the substitution of single leadership to a collective leadership predisposed to the beat of martial music – we do not get a symphony, but a cacophony.