Governance by task force?

FROM FAR AND NEAR - Ruben Almendras (The Freeman) - November 25, 2020 - 12:00am

In the last few months our government have created four task forces, among them the Manila Bay Task Force, the Anti-Corruption Task Force, the Typhoon Task Force, the COVID-19 IATF, and the long-existing Marawi Task Force. It seems that this government believes that by creating a task force, it is addressing/solving problems. It is not, as task forces are actually symptomatic of deeper or more basic problems.

By definition, task forces are temporary special purpose teams organized for specific tasks which are time bound and are disbanded after the outcome is achieved. They are supposed to do the work better and faster due to better coordination and special access to resources and authorities, which are not available to the regular line departments or ministries.

For governments to resort to multiple task forces means that the existing systems and organizations are not functioning and not doing its job well. For the smooth functioning of an organization like the government, a corporation or any group of people, a system has to be in place. These systems are composed of structures, processes, procedures and algorithms. Then, these have to be manned/operated by capable persons who become better at their jobs over time. While social systems are more complicated and harder to run, it is still analogous to organic or mechanical systems like the systems in the human body or a car.

The circulatory or respiratory systems in our bodies function because all the components coordinate with each other well, but when we have a heart attack or a stroke, then a cardiac operation is the taskforce that intervene. When our car suddenly conks out while in the road, it could be the electrical system or fuel system that failed and would need a taskforce because these systems were not well made or maintained. The reasons that make organic and mechanical systems fail are also the same reasons social/political systems fail to do the job. When even the task forces fail, then the government and or society falls. In a democratic society, elections changes governments and in autocratic regimes, it is revolutions.

In the Philippine situation, the government structure can be improved by decentralizing the executive department, a less corrupt and more independent legislature, a truly independent judiciary and a more professional civil service. These will attract more competent people to work for the government and run for elective positions. Unfortunately, like in most populist governments, the people that gravitate to government work are the sycophants, opportunists, and, yes, men who are incapable of coming up with the processes, procedures, and algorithms that make the systems work. Examples are Venezuela and Brazil where Ministers resigned from their positions, while in Singapore the Ministers have professional lifetime careers. A clearer example would be the numerous resignations of senior officials of the U.S. government during the four-year term of Trump. The structure and the quality components in the structure make the systems work best. This is also the difference between a cheap car with cheap components, and a BMW or an Audi.

Task forces are not completely unnecessary as there are instances that they are really needed like in emergencies and extremely unforeseen disasters. But for a country that is regularly visited by natural disasters, the systems should already be in place in the existing line departments. There is certainly no need to create another department for disasters and bloat/add another layer of expensive bureaucracy. An intangible component of a working political and social system where processes, procedures and algorithm functions and evolve, is “leadership.” It could be intellectual, moral, and ethical or a combination of all. These were in the regimes of Gandhi, Mandela, Lee Kwan Yu, and Jesus Christ.

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