Philippines: Government Spending and Public Policy


We have many laws in the Philippines because we have a lot of problems and also some of our lawmakers dissect issues and see things one by one. Some laws have been forgotten.  Others haven’t been implemented.  So what happens is that we have laws that don’t solve problems and are just too weak to tackle issues.  Haven’t you wondered why drugs are sold in the Philippine streets like candies?  Are our laws that weak?

Our lawmakers–okay, most of them–enact laws like how some doctors give a pill per ailment.  You have hypertension? Take this pill.  Diabetes?  This pill.  If you have many ailments, you get many pills. Smart doctors see a patient as a whole.  His ailment is systemic. They can give him one or two potent pills, advice him about his diet, recommend exercise routines to generally solve his health problem.  They connect the defect of one body part to the defect of another.  Our government should follow that kind of process–a system of solutions to a systemic problem.  That is what I called in my previous post a web of solutions to a problem that is complicated.

We should start treating a law as just part of a system called public policy–which is composed of laws, regulatory measures, courses of action, funding allocation, program implementation, performance audit, etc.  It is the role of the executive branch of government  to create and implement such system with the help of the other two branches that enact laws it needs and strengthen it in case its constitutionality is questioned.  Public policy is also a web of government efforts that take on a very important issue.

A pressing issue like unemployment should move our government to plan a public policy that has multiple goals to solve it.  Another thing about public policy is its multiple goals that operate around a working principle.  For example, the government can suggest that from now on when laws, policies, and programs are drafted job creation should be one of their objectives.  Can the Freedom of Information Bill, if enacted into law, create jobs?  Of course, it can if all government corporations, commissions, agencies, departments have information desks that will take charge of information requests.  Those are jobs right there.

Economists understand public policy better because they are used to the interconnections among economic factors and indicators in an economic system.  I have a good example:  government spending without public policy.  The Technical Education and Skills Development Act of 1994 was enacted with these goals:

” a)  Promote and strengthen the quality of technical education and skills development programs to attain international competitiveness;

b)  Focus technical education and skills development on meeting the changing demands for quality middle-level manpower;

c)  Encourage critical and creative thinking by disseminating the scientific and technical knowledge  base of middle-level manpower development programs;

d)  Recognize and encourage the complementary roles of public and private institutions in technical education and skills development and training systems; and

e)  Inculcate desirable values through the development of moral character with emphasis on work ethic, self-discipline, self-reliance and nationalism.”

Where’s the line about employment and employability?  It’s clear that it’s just a law (or act if you know the difference) creating Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).  The government implements what the law says and allocates funds and resources.  That’s it.  If skills development for future employment is a public policy, that law is just a part of it.  The fund allocation is another.  Making sure that vocational students of TESDA are employable should be the big chunk of it.  With public policy, the scope is wide, and the participating stakeholders are many.  It’s not only about the law.

Let’s use this 2010 data from the National Statistics Office’s Annual Survey of Philippine Business and Industry and TESDA.

The building construction industry hired 9,035 workers

The civil engineering construction industry laid off 16,749 workers

TESDA awarded 28,607 certificates of competency in fields related to construction.

If those statistics are still the trends today,  where will these people with certificates work?  How can the TESDA Act solve that?  Remember the government spends a lot in implementing that law.  If the government cannot give jobs to these people, that’s a wasteful government spending. If skills development and future employment among the jobless poor is a public policy, different government branches, agencies, and departments can contribute to its success.  TESDA won’t be doing it alone.

How can we give jobs to these people?  I mean local construction jobs.  Make regulatory policies and even local ordinances that will force construction companies to hire more workers.  How?  City governments can prohibit construction activities from evening to dawn due to noise and disturbance.  The Department of Labor and Employment should monitor if construction workers and their employers stick to the “eight hours a day” rule and the one-hour off for lunch and rest. The Department of Health can limit construction work to forty hours a week per worker to prevent over-fatigue and work-related accidents.  The Department of Environmental Resources can make guidelines that will push construction companies to adopt early project deadlines so the quality of air won’t be compromised.  They sound funny, but the logic is good: less working hours a day and a week plus early project deadline mean more workers will be needed and hired.

Some of you might wonder why I’m focusing on the building construction industry.  Well, it is a booming industry with high growth rate and profit growth.  They say it will continue to boom until 2016.  The government should do something to make this industry create  a significant number of jobs.  The first thing it should do is make unemployment a matter of public policy before spending more billions on programs that don’t promise local jobs.  Create a system in which different government branches, agencies, and departments have goals to solve the problem.  Employing the poor is the most potent way to end poverty. With that as a working principle, the government’s spending won’t be a waste.

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