26 April 2007

The prospects of NPM among Philippine LGUs

My column for this week's issue of Vox Bikol.

GUMMERSBACH – One of the fascinating discoveries I made in the course of the ongoing New Public Management (NPM) seminar I am attending in this charming little German city concerns local governments.

In a previous column, I mentioned Civil Service Commission chair Karina Constantino-David saying that Philippine LGUs, notwithstanding of their own peculiar problems, are one of the good news about civil service in the country.

In this seminar, our Peruvian and German facilitators mentioned practically the same thing: that reforms along the lines of NPM -- which seek to apply private sector mindsets, processes and tools in the public sector -- have better chances of taking off at the local level. Maybe this shift was impelled by hard realities.

No matter how appealing the NPM principles are -- a lean state; separate decisionmaking, with politics deciding the strategic and the civil service taking care of the operative; lean management; a new service attitude; new models of control; decentralization; quality management; and product approach -- resistance to their large-scale implementation and scaling up is just too great at the national and federal levels.

There are, for instance, reversals in a number of countries that originally pioneered NPM such as the United Kingdom. The so-called “joined-up governance” espoused by the New Labour party under Tony Blair has effectively reversed efforts to “roll back the state” that Margaret Thatcher introduced in the late ‘80s. So much so that a 2005 study spanning seven “leading-edge” NPM countries jointly conducted by researchers from the London School of Economics and Political Science and Oxford University pronounced it to be dead, arguing that the stage is now set for what they call “digital-era governance.”

But success stories from the federal state level downwards have come to the fore. In Brazil, for instance, governors in four of the 26 states were either elected or reelected with a strong mandate on the basis of public sector reforms and modernization. This goes against the grain of populist policies being espoused by the current Brazilian government, as well as the rise of left-wing regimes in Latin America.

In the Philippines, Naga of course is a “leading-edge” city implementing NPM, without us even knowing about it. When Mayor Jesse Robredo first became mayor in 1988, he introduced private sector tools and techniques at City Hall owing to his previous work with San Miguel Corporation; these include management by objectives and the Performance Pledge under the Productivity Improvement Program.

The Pledge, found in all city hall departments and offices, later became the basis for the development of the Citizens Charter, which documents some 140 or so services of the city government. Now on its second edition, the charter describes the step-by-step procedure in availing each service, the expected response time as well as the city hall staff responsible for each step. Available both in printed and digital format through the city website, a streamlined Bikol version is currently being developed to comprise charter’s 3rd edition.

All these innovative efforts happened rather instinctively, part of a process to continuously improve the quality of service delivery, now consciously centered on meeting the needs of its customers. We only came to learn that they are in fact an operationalization of the NPM philosophy when the Friedrich Naumann Foundation in the Philippines invited Mayor Robredo to speak in a seminar it arranged for Philippine LGU officials last year at the AIM.

What do these developments mean? One, that NPM tools and techniques are applicable in the Philippine setting, especially in the context of our 15-year decentralization experience. But two, we still have a long way to go, especially in reversing the current situation where “leading edge” localities are more of the exception rather than the rule.


cvj said...

In what way would NPM go against 'populist policies'? Couldn't you implement populist policies using NPM?