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Letting go

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Milwida M. Guevara

Milwida M. Guevara

I had the privilege of being part of several transition teams. I worked with 11 Secretaries of Finance and experienced both the pain and joy in working with a new administration. I have also been drawn to transitions in local governments. There are of course, two sides to a transition. The one who is leaving has hopes that his/her good programs will continue. He also is apprehensive that what he has begun would completely be obliterated and changed. This can be one of the reasons why local government leaders prefer to entrust the mantle of power to a relative or a protégé.

The other side of a transition is the incoming leader. He is full of confidence with the mandate that was given him by the electorate. At last, he has the opportunity to use his faculties, his power and responsibilities to promote public welfare. He has the power to make changes and turn everything for the better. The dark side of transition are leaders who look at his/her victory as an opportunity to amass power, to get even with those who have caused him/her harm, and to change policies and processes of his predecessors so that he can introduce his own. We have had sad experiences with leaders who did not want to do anything with what was past no matter if they were good and efficient.

The experiences of three best Secretaries of Finance give us lessons on how transitions can be painless and smooth. Former Secretary Ramon Del Rosario and Bobby de Ocampo did not bring new personnel except for their secretary and personal assistant. Secretary Ramon often remarked how he found so many hardworking and dedicated personnel in the Department. Secretary Ongpin found no time for fault finding and went straight ahead with working with the officials and staff in crafting the 1986 Tax Reform Program. They were listening individuals and were open to learning from our experiences and insights. They looked for what is good in us and provided stability by continuing and improving policies and programs that they considered efficient even if they were not the original authors.

Another great leader, President FVR, prepared government for a transition to a new leadership. He asked every Department to prepare a transition plan, provide all documents to the incoming administration, and give them extensive briefings. We handed loads of documents to the new officials and stood ready to provide any information that they needed.

Unfortunately, these spirits are not universal. There are newly elected and appointed officials who practice the dictum that “to the victor belong the spoils”. They barge in with haughtiness and stand ready to install their friends and supporters into positions of power. Systems are replaced because they are looked at as vestiges and remnants of the past administration. The victims of their short-sightedness, and lack of confidence are the good staff members who have the institutional memory, and who have the best interest of the public at heart. More importantly, the public suffers from the lack of continuity and uncertainty in governance.

It is normal for somebody who has devoted his/her entire life to an organization to be afraid to let go. But there is no forever. We all need to visualize how we can prepare the organization we work with, whether in government or in the private sector, to become stronger and better without us. Before I left the Department of Finance, we held several weekend workshops with the staff, including drivers, messengers, division chiefs and directors. We reflected on the values we believe in, illustrated work flows, clarified responsibilities, and reflected on how we can work happily with one another with less tension and greater care. Looking back, I am mightily proud of how the staff members of the DOF have carried themselves with distinction, and love of country, despite several transitions.

Our hope is that our new leaders will rise above fault-finding and embrace their mandate as opportunities to serve. We also hope that the outgoing officials will leave with less rancor and will see the value of helping those who will continue their work.

mguevara@synergeia.org.ph

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