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Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Editorial: Tension in the RDC

THIS is not the first time a rift has developed in the Regional Development Council (RDC). Considering that the body, by design, brings together two different cultures—one corporate and the other, government—it’s not surprising for tension to simmer from time to time. That tension may even turn out to be creative.

In June 2012, 10 private sector representatives in the RDC asked then Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) Secretary Rogelio Singson to explain how the DPWH decides what projects to prioritize. That is not so different from what’s happening now, when the DPWH finds itself in the middle of questions from both elected officials and private sector representatives in the RDC.

Before that, in September 2000, then Cebu Gov. Pablo Garcia asked RDC Chairman and Bohol Gov. Rene Relampagos about the Central Visayas Project Development Coordinating Committee and why it overstepped the RDC in deciding what projects to implement. Garcia said that government wasn’t following a bottom-up approach to development planning and had failed to listen to what local governments in Cebu really needed.

The received wisdom is that the private sector does everything better. That whole “reinventing government” movement that began a quarter-century ago in the United States stemmed from using performance measures—something that developed in the corporate world—to make public agencies more responsive and more accountable.

Government can learn from the private sector’s emphasis on being nimble; its ability to change systems that have ossified. Its officials must recognize that government does not possess enough expertise or resources, on its own, to get some big-ticket and urgently needed infrastructure projects done.

But the private sector also needs local government buy-in. The failure to listen to what local communities need is a refrain that keeps coming up in the RDC. Any arrogance from the view that the private sector always knows better has to be rethought: Donald Trump is an extreme example that private sector leadership isn’t always better than what we’ll find in the public sector or the political class.

What won’t help the RDC now are name-calling and presuming that the other party has bad intentions. There’s too much at stake for our leaders to act like schoolyard bullies; there’s outmoded infrastructure to upgrade, corruption in public sector procurement to minimize, and a weary public’s needs to meet.

Robert Puente and Patric Sabol were thinking of the United States when they wrote about infrastructure reform in September 2015 for the Brookings Institution, but what they had to say rings true here at home. What we need now among our leaders is “the ability to prioritize the highest-impact projects and to maintain flexibility in the face of a continually evolving procurement environment.”

Despite all the challenges, however, Puentes and Sabol emphasized: “Collaboration between the public and private sector delivers better projects.”

Somewhere in the middle, our leaders in the RDC must meet.
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