LIFE MATTERS: Public Administration 101

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By Dr. Dennis Acop

When we see how governments are run these days, we wonder whether the processes done are legitimate and whether they really serve the public good. As a military officer, I did not really understand the full range of public administration until I studied it at the University of the Philippines while a working PSG officer in the ‘90s. Limitations do not allow me to fully discuss the topic but I certainly just wish to elaborate on some basics. Among them are: Who is your public? Does the law allow public administration to be effective? And is the business of government really being served?

Who is your public? This was one of my professor’s favorite question. Is it the president? Meaning that does the system function merely to please a sitting leader? Or perhaps the dominant elites and their vested interests? Is it the vulnerable and marginalized in society who cannot fend for themselves? As the esteemed Ramon Magsaysay once said: ‘People with less in life should have more in law’. That President who ended the Hukbalahaps while SecDef and eventually the Partido Komunista Ng Pilipinas in 1954 was a man of the masses and championed their cause. Leaders after him soon emerged but the question about their public became muddled only to be later revealed as either self-interest or party interest but never the common good. For public service continue to lay defeated by its enemies.

To some extent, the law allows public administration to be effective. But to an even greater extent, it does not. For instance, even the most crucial law has substantive infirmities. We now see the lack of wisdom in having a minority president thanks to the multi-party provision in the 1987 Constitution. We also see the same lack of wisdom in having a president and vice-president who do not come from the same political party. More imbecile thinking can be credited to the provision that can enthrone any Tomas, Dante, and Juan without exemplifying the essential character, wisdom, and experience of a national leader.

There is also the issue of inconsistency between the content of law and its implementation. And there are numerous sub-issues. One, there is the quality of our laws. Are the laws being passed those that are really needed? By whom? How can the quality of law be credible when Congress is occupied by people who know nothing about the law much more the integrity of the process to make one? Another sub-issue is the quality of implementation of the law assuming even that the law is worth enforcing. How do we even come up with laws with no Implementing Rules and Regulations? How can a law be credible when even the people who made it and those enforcing it violate that same law or other laws for that matter? Yet another sub-issue is the lack of accountability from non-compliance to public policy. No one ever goes to jail for violations of significant policy by significant suspects but the jail is full of insignificant violations by insignificant suspects.

Finally, is the business of government really being served? True-blue public servants would vehemently object to this terminology I use crying to high heavens that public governance is not a ‘business’! They certainly speak more truth than fake news! As it is almost impossible now to differentiate public service from business practice. Corruption, for instance, is incorrigibly rampant with many resigned to it as a fact or way of life. Even in a predominantly Christian nation. Again, I am reminded of what I learned from the late Professor Amelia Varela who wrote about the ills of public administration in developing countries like the Philippines. In her article, she lamented the dualities in Philippine public administration and culture which she posited were utterly dysfunctional. She cited the following bureaucratic cultures: graft and corruption, political patronage, ambiguity, dualism, mediocrity, among others. Where does personal interest end, and public interest begin? In ‘soft’ states, as the political economist Michael Todaro wrote, the dysfunctions in public administration and governance are much more pronounced due to the relative weakness of institutions in these states. If the business of governance is not being served, then why do we even have governments?

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