Wanted: Managers in Government

I wrote in an earlier article that local public officials often cite insufficient or depleted budget as reason for why development in their place isn’t happening. This may be because public officials are not managers.

In the private sector, in general, the case is made toward the “bottom line” which implies performance in order to achieve the end result (desired profit level). In government, performance is measured mostly in terms of how many visions are created for the country (the country’s wallowing in these did you notice?).

If managers in the private sector fail to get results done it’s out of business for the business. In contrast, government remains in business even if it doesn’t produce results. Borrowing the criticism made by a former US Senator of his colleagues, senators (people in government) get paid even if it’s the phone book they’re reading (at the podium).

The tension between staff at headquarters and those at the frontline, at least in my experience is that the latter, so focused on the trees, can’t see the forest; that staff at headquarters don’t understand what’s really going on “on the ground.” So is the tension between leaders and managers, true even within the individual who has both the capacity for leadership and management. Leaders, clearly seeing and caught up in the totality of the vision, don’t seem to know where in that vision to put in the nuts and bolts or in practical terms how to go about achieving the bottom line. That’s when the managers in them ought to emerge, because managers would know.

I guess this is where agency-level support ought to step in, the DILG or the Civil Service Commission. These agencies should make a case for creating managers (not administrators!) out of public leaders, through training and development. By providing leaders in government with support that matters, the agencies in effect are enabling the environment in which the motivation often-cited by public officials ‘to be of service’ can take root, deep and wide and for this service to produce results.

But what’s happening is that the MLGOO (supposedly the local representative of DILG whose mandate is to exercise general supervision over the local government units and strengthen the capability of LGUs in the delivery of devolved services) has become too involved in local politics – even becoming the “little Mayor”. He or she has become too much of an insider that he or she like the rest “on the ground” can’t anymore see the trees for the forest. He or she has become among those in need of (re)training and development. And no one is the better for it. But I empathize with MLGOOs in their dilemma. Many would rather join the club – including suffering the position and nickname of “little Mayor” – than be thrown out as permanent outcasts. I think they ought to be circulated among the LGUs so that no one LGU would have undue influence on them. And by going around the LGUs, MLGOOs should be able to discern how each tree put together defines the shape of a forest. Local officials under their care then should be better for it.


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