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A wish for the future of the Insurance Commission

By Michael F. Rellosa

AS we approach the end of an administration and the dawn of another, it is an opportune time to raise an issue few people talk about but many feel strongly about, be they on one side of the divide or the other. Of the many elephants in the room, one that needs recognition of and understanding is the value of political appointees to the positions of the commissioner and his deputies.

A political appointee includes Cabinet secretaries and their subordinates at the deputy secretary, undersecretary or assistant secretary levels, and the heads and deputies of most independent agencies. The appointing power is the president of the republic, and the most important criteria, among the many that he must use in making his choice, is the appointees' ability to manage, design and effectively conduct new programs, implement key legislation (both old and new) or deliver services. In turn, the appointee, who possesses those needed qualities, must be able to educate political leaders about an agency's prerogatives and the regulated industry's unique attributes as well as to maintain the delicate balance between the agency's core mission and the political goals of elected officials.

Therein lies the rub, the tightrope the appointee proves to be the waterloo of lesser mortals and what exacerbates this is the damaged culture in which we exist. This includes the "utang na loob" that demands that favors be paid, the "padrino system" that creeps into all levels, the "palakasan system" as well as the "crab mentality" that is innate. On top of this, we have the vested interests of the various industry stakeholders, which are vigilantly fought for, using all means within one's disposal. These hamstring even the best of the appointees and who suffers most is ultimately the insuring public.

In a paper titled "Political Appointees vs Career Civil Servants: A Multiple Principals Theory of Political Bureaucracies," written by Spiller and Urbiztondo for the Haas School of Business, Berkeley, California and published in the European Journal of Political Economy in 1994, the main point that the authors wanted to emphasize was that "the differences in the organization of civil services can be understood as the result of a game among multiple principals for the control of the bureaucracy. While the bureaucracy is, in principle, directed by the executive branch of the government, the legislature can not be deterred from being involved in the determination of the policies the bureaucracy ought to follow. Thus, the bureaucracy must respond to the interests of at least two political principals. These two principals may differ in their political interests as well as their political horizons."

In the Philippines, for example, historically, legislators have tended to last longer than presidents causing a divergence in their political horizons and, therefore, priorities and interests. We also must recognize the fact that the same party does not usually control the two branches. Patronage politics provides the executive branch with a bureaucracy that is, to a large extent, compliant to its wishes. This does not bode well for the legislative branch that prefers a bureaucracy that is more in tune with its own policy interests than those of the relatively transient members of the executive branch.

Throw in the culture in which we operate and the current plethora of stakeholders with their respective interests, the picture becomes clearer.

My wish for the commission is more freedom and latitude for them to make the proper decisions independent of the interests of the appointing powers and by extension their "amicis." I am glad that our current commissioner and his deputies now have a fixed term independent of the executive branch granting them more time to continue with their reforms and initiatives that have proven to be good for the industry given its unassailable growth numbers. This will also pave the way for a proper and efficient turnover in due course.

My other wish, which is timely, is for the electorate to think hard and deep when wielding their power to choose our leaders come May. There is much at stake not only for my beloved industry, but for the entire government bureaucracy and all those affected by it, and that means all of us.


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