There are standing jokes about the creation of committees and task forces to solve a problem. I can recall three:
“If you want to kill an idea, create a committee to work on it.” By Charles Kettering
“I hate being placed in committees. They are always having meetings at which half are absent and the rest late.” By Oliver Wendell Holmes
“If Moses had operated through committees, the Israelites would not have got across the Red Sea.” By William Booth
Task forces function like a committee. They are work groups that are composed of ‘experts” and “specialists” to accomplish a specific objective. Committees tend to be more institutional fixtures of an organization like the different Committees in Congress. A Task force normally disbands after its mission has been accomplished.
There are more than 15 Task Forces in government—the most popular of which is the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infections and Diseases (IATF). The IATF was created by then President Benigno Aquino and was reconvened by President Duterte. And to operationalize the policies of IATF, another Task Force, the COVIDd-19 Task Force, was created. Task forces breed the creation of more task forces and committees.
Government has created several Task Forces: handling the hunger problem, rehabilitation of Marawi, relocation and reintegration of rebels, rehabilitation of Manila Bay and Boracay, probing corruption, investigating PhilHealth anomalies, ending local communist armed conflict, handling the drug problem, among others The most recent creation of government was a Task Force to implement the government’s strategy on employment recovery.
Government said the right reasons for the creation of Task Forces—they create synergy, break silos, and serve as a tool for enhancing cooperation among government agencies. But they also conceal basic flaws in management. Our government has weak institutions and blurred accountability.
Government cannot perpetually operate through task forces. This implies that government agencies are not fully equipped to carry out their mandates and task forces have to be created to respond to emerging problems. The capability of government agencies to plan, anticipate problems and develop long-term solutions is stymied. Instead, government solutions to problems tend to be ad hoc, sporadic, and at times, cosmetic. Policies and rules are not stable and change depending on who is on power.
There is no continuity in policies and programs and they come and go with changes in administration. Investments and gains from well-meaning reforms such as the bottom-up budgeting which promoted transparency and participatory governance are thrown into the waste-basket.
More importantly, accountability in government is blurred. Who is mainly responsible for policy formulation and service delivery? Who should answer for a major fiasco? Whose responsibility is it that the Marawi rehabilitation is so delayed? Who failed in accomplishing zero hunger? Who will answer for mismanagement and failure to achieve results?
If indicators are used to measure the efficacy of task forces, their performance falls below the bar. The Philippines has the highest disapproval rating in handling the pandemic among Southeast Asian countries (The State of Southeast Asia, 2021.) SWS reported a hunger rate of 21.1% of families for 2020.
It is never too late to strengthen government institutions instead of creating more and more task forces.