Thursday, February 17, 2011

Ethically Motivated Connective Leadership - Case 3

Philippines - Secretary Benjamin Diokno

In the fall of 1998, Benjamin Diokno was appointed Secretary of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM). Diokno, a U.S. trained economist with a background in public administration, had a strong interest in pushing reforms of the country’s budgeting system. Diokno is an example of a connective leader who used his direct, instrumental, and relational skills to bring about procurement reform in the Philippines. He had already served as an Undersecretary for the department (1987-91) under then President Corazon Aquino, and from that experience recognized the need for reforms in the budget process. Reforms in budget formulation had been initiated during the succeeding administration of President Fidel Ramos (1993-98) under the guidance of Emilia Boncodin, an Undersecretary who retired at the end of Ramos’ term. Diokno urged his staff to carry on the reforms that had been initiated previously, and shepherded the young and energetic group that Boncodin had nurtured during her stewardship. Diokno also reached out and connected with collaborators from other arms of the government, the judiciary, and retired civil servants – and created a tightly knit group of reform-minded government officials. He conducted in-depth studies of the procurement process and proposed the implementation of a well-thought out communication strategy that would garner support for the reform initiative. By launching the Procurement Watch Institute (PWI), Diokno and his peers ensured the establishment of checks-and-balances through the involvement of civil society. By obtaining the support of progressive legislators who knew how to traverse the complex legislative maze, Diokno was able to get the procurement reforms passed in Parliament. 

The quest to reform the legal underpinnings of public procurement in the Philippines took more than three years to achieve, punctuated with many bouts of frustration. Getting from the “bad” equilibrium to a “good” equilibrium did not occur instantaneously with the derivation of a fancy mathematical formula or the signing of a loan or grant agreement with specific conditionalities. It involved considerable painstaking efforts of many dedicated individuals who together anticipated what events might turn up each day, and handled those events that did occur in order to keep the momentum going.

If there is an overarching lesson from the Philippine experience with public procurement reform, it is the necessity of creating a “well-oiled machine” that is capable of responding to unanticipated events as the reform process unfolds. The path from the status quo to the desired state is littered with uncertainty. What is needed then is a mechanism that enables reformers to deal with this uncertainty on a day-to-day basis. This goes beyond the basic adage of forming a coalition to support a reform effort. It means that members of that coalition must be knit tightly into a well-coordinated team that can develop and implement strategy as events unfold. How this is done will differ from case to case and country to country. It will likely include a few core elements.

First, it will be necessary to form a cadre of reformers within the Executive. In this world of stage three leadership, having a so-called champion is not sufficient, for he or she will necessarily need a core group to depend on to move things along within the government. Moreover, as is typically the case, a champion becomes a clear target of affected vested interests and so will often be the focus of their counteractions. Having a core group of dedicated individuals limits the impact of these actions: Even if the champion is forced to go, there still will be others left to step up to the plate. Second, this cadre needs to be armed with sufficient technical knowledge and tools pertinent to the reform in question. The reformers must be able to respond objectively, definitively, and confidently to these attempts to “keep people’s eyes on the ball.” Third, the core group within government will need support from well-organized allies in civil society and the business community. Outside pressure will almost always be needed to counter the inherent advantage of vested interests. The latter are generally few in number but highly motivated and often tightly knit. Well-organized allies create another battlefront that helps dilute the attention and efforts of these interests. Finally, an aspect that is often underappreciated, a strategic and sustained media campaign must be developed to support the reformers and their allies. In the end, the attention and support of the greater public is what will likely make the difference. There is no real substitute to an effective media campaign in harnessing this good will and support.

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