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The absence of trust

/ 06:46 AM December 01, 2013

The work to restore the Visayas after a killer earthquake and Typhoon Yolanda is  just beginning. We have almost passed the phase of giving victims immediate relief but there is still the work of rebuilding what has been destroyed. And that might be the bigger, more complex and slower work. If the latter, it will be because it is work the government will have to do or direct.

Consider that even now many of Cebu’s courts still do not have a place to hold hearings. So that if the wheel of justice  has ground slowly in the past, now it is grinding near to a halt. The Palace of Justice which housed the courts is now structurally unsafe. The courts are looking for a  suitable  place that might house them, an unused government building, some private conference hall, even tents will do. Who are looking for these places? The judges themselves or any friend they can ask to help. And of course, one must ask, “What is the Supreme Court’s role in all these? What other bureau of central government is charged with this search?”

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It is a cultural thing. This is the culture of government. It is inevitably hierarchical. At the bottom of the hierarchy, the workers on the ground. Local government workers. At the top, central government. There is a dynamic between them. On the surface, there seems to be peace and professional respect; in truth, something else.

This dynamic is true even in the most educated hierarchies. Take for instance the University of the Philippines. On the ground, the faculty and local administrators. At the top, the central university system. On the ground, the faculty and colleges fight for attention. On top, they decide who gets it. Such a complex system of competition for scarce resources would expectedly lead to much intramural strife. To minimize the strife, keep everyone busy. And so the endless train of sometimes pointless and expensive 5-year development planning, visioning, re-visioning, etc., to sap away whatever unused energy there is. Doesn’t anyone ever ask: Why not just use the last 5-year development plan?

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That would be disrespectful. It would be offensive. And especially so for those who ordered the development plans, the very same people who finally decide where resources go or whose proposals are finally approved. So at the bottom, they try never to rock the boat too much. Better to simply and silently fend for those below them, the colleges, the departments or divisions, etc.

But this is only half the reason why the machinery of government turns very slowly. There is also the complex of checks designed to prevent anomalous spending, malversation and generally corruption. No administrator should ever take the aforesaid lightly. Even the most innocent intentions might result in a breach of these complex of government spending rules. It is always possible to be found guilty of corruption even if one is not at all corrupt, just “technically” erroneous. But of course all these happen only to those in the lower strata of the hierarchy. At the top, they get away with murder. Consider the ongoing pork barrel scandal.

If there is anyone or anything to be blamed for all these it would be the culture of pervasive corruption in the country. We have tried everything, it would historically seem. We have tried privatizing branches of government, we have tried giving the work to non-government organizations. Same result.

Corruption or even the shadow of it, the threat of corruption, is always a good reason for going about things slowly. But in a situation where work must be done fast or it might not get done at all, as in this instance of rehabilitating the Visayas after the twin disasters, this reason cannot help but sound like a lame excuse. It explains the situation but it does not justify it.

It is time for our elected leaders to step up to the task ahead. For once, we have an elected president who is not bleeding in office from accusations of corruption. He has no excuse for not taking a more direct and forceful hand in the work before all of us. He cannot leave this work to the existing culture of government. If there is an absence of trust in that now, it will fall below zero if this work is not done quickly enough. And then we would drift from an absence of trust to an absence of hope. And then there would  be hell to pay.

Whatever happens from hereon will be the legacy of Noynoy’s presidency. This will be how history remembers him.

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TAGS: corruption, Government
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