July 13 2010
Headline: “ We will vigorously clamp down on jueteng but it is a low priority.”
Headline: “ Newly appointed Customs Commissioner only cheats in golf.”
Headline: “ We will lower our budget deficit now expected to increase from P 300 billion to P 325 billion.”
These confusing headlines of the last week speak to us on a number of levels.
First, the headlines tell us the basic tenets of the campaign, the principles that got Noy elected- integrity, transparency, human values – are negotiable. As with Alvarez it is possible, pala, to be partially honest, to be partially pregnant. Where does the break happen, at 80%, 90%? What is the passing grade?
Second, they tell us Administration officials are not listening to what they say. They do not realize that 92 million are tuned in hourly to their every deed and word and that they need to get their message together. Guys, do not say it just because you think it. Government is one big reality show and you are it. You are live 24/7 on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.
Third, the headlines insinuate the Administration is backtracking on certain election promises or at least deferring them. Like St. Augustine the Government is appealing: “ Oh God, make me chaste but not quite yet.” This is not a confidence builder.
We may be a little harsh on the new leadership. These are early days and mistakes are inevitable. Running a country is no mean feat so let us give the President and his team some space. We wish them the best but at the same time there are some lessons to be learnt.
First, all official pronouncements must be tight, disciplined and unified. Stay on message, the message of change, the message of integrity. Nobody speaks out of turn, when unsure clear with head office. The media and detractors will pick every inconsistency, create doubt. Let us not give them that opportunity.
Second, be credible. If the message is bad, give context. Take the budget. On July 1 officials proclaimed with much fanfare they will perform a comprehensive, zero-based review to ensure no waste in government. Within 9 days they announced the results, an increase of P 25 billion on last year’s deficit of P300 billion.
God created the world in 6 days but can we believe our officials completed in 9 days a full, bottom up study of government revenues and expenditures?
Perhaps somebody wanted to show how efficient they were. Unfortunately it also indicates how shallow a review they may have conducted. Credit markets immediately punished the new budget numbers widening the spreads between 2 and 5 year Philippine paper (jargon to say that investors were unhappy with the announcement).
The better way would have been to announce that given the Administration is midway into the fiscal year, OMB is unable to much alter the 2010 budget but starting next year the full procedures will be in place.
Third, avoid silly mistakes, especially obvious ones like the Alvarez appointment. The Government is going to step into more than its share of landmines so it should not break a leg over a manhole.
The only currency this Government is trading on is trust. Trust is what got Noy elected, makes people cheer him on, protects him from nay-sayers, and gives him the time the President needs to turn around this country.
Trust is a powerful shield for a leader, it is an enabler, it is what makes effective governance possible.
Yet trust is also fickle, a vapor, an emotion that can quickly disappear. And the villain is doubt.
Once cast, doubt like a cancer will feed on trust until the core is gone leaving the leadership unprotected, at the mercy of the political elements.
Doubt has not set on the President but that does not mean that it will never. For even as he remains personally untouched, doubt, like a thief in the night, could surface from failings in his camp. The thief would announce that the King has no clothes.
When that happens the President should be quick to isolate the cancer even if it means discarding those close to him. That is the hard part but that is what comes with the job.