Monday, December 26, 2011

Killer Floods and Competency Engineering

Engineers in my time wore slide rules like a six shooter pistols. They were quick draws with intricate calculations that are today flashed out by computer. The modern computer was designed by an engineer with a mind for application, comfort, speed, result.

See, that is the thing about engineers. They are both creative and applied. They have to understand the idea and they have to know how to put it into structure. That structure may be steal beams or large oil pipes or electronic wires or composite airplane parts.

The Philippines needs three skilled engineers: an Engineer in Chief, a Social Engineer, and a Competency Engineer. Men or women who understands that the Philippines is limited by shortcomings that most people don't see, or ignore. It needs solutions and structure, not criticisms, not small acts that don't correct the problem, not more bandaids.

The Congress is a fine institution. It is just incompetent at getting the Philippines up to speed in anything that matters. The President is a fine man. He is just incompetent at finding a way to get from desire to reality, where desire is a booming economy and reality is poverty and unnecessary deaths. Government agencies like Customs and Immigration and Foreign Affairs and Tourism and Trade are fine organizations, but they are incompetent at getting high value production and world class result.

Some people in government are starting to hone in on the problem. Senator Pimentel III was close when he urged President Aquino to appoint the right people to agencies that deal with disasters. He said: "We need these men by whose decisions and actions lives are saved. The worst thing is to have high-level officials merely monitoring and reporting the scenario. That's the role of the media."

Perhaps the good Senator should be the Engineer in Chief, the guy who understands that problems are generally systemic, not transactional.

The rain was an act of God. The situation on the ground, the cut trees, the houses on riverbanks, were deeds of mankind, a system built on year after year of ineffectual work. And thievery.

The flood was caused by huge rain, perhaps because of global warming. Maybe we need competency in preparing for more intense storms and rising seas and changing micro climates.

The flood damage was intensified because forests had been clear-cut, robbing the hills of their staying power. This was done because people in power cheated or were not competent. Going even deeper as to "why", one can see that these are chronic problems within a government of poorly paid people, most of whom have little opportunity to improve their condition. "Career" is not a word you hear much about in the Philippines, especially among young people who know the plum jobs go to people with connections.

The job of the Engineer in Chief is to identify when and how problems arise, at the root.

If the problems are social, or cultural . . . such as the way "loss of face" gets in the way of objective problem-solving, because people are more interested in winning (saving face) than in good results . . . then the Social Engineer needs to be summoned. He is likely to recommend supplements to the education curriculum or public service campaigns to enlighten people.

If the failure is competency, then the Competency Engineer needs to be summoned. The DENR can't seem to stop the clear-cutting of trees. But that is the job. Why are they failing?

Define the job. Train or get the best people to do the job. Stop filling jobs with wives and cousins and friends and people owed favors, or who have the power to offer favors for cash.

President Aquino understands part way. He said: “But the problem is many are still violating (the logging ba). So we have a fact-finding team that will determine the violators and we will file cases and hold them accountable."

Punishment of the negligent does not fix the problem, though, does it? It is just a part of the excuse-making and blaming that avoids the real problem.

What is fascinating to me is knowing that the problem is two-fold but can be moved forward with only one solution. A solution you never hear about from legislators or the Administration or government agencies.

  1. Today the culture is steeped in cheating and corruption because it is the only way people can grow richer. People need to see opportunity to get wealthy by playing it straight. That is why a Fair Employment Act is so critically important. To build opportunity into the system. To establish "career" as a real word in the Philippines.

  1. Incompetent people are lodged in important jobs. A Fair Employment law that bans hiring and promoting on any basis but capability can fix this. It will take a little time, but the incompetent people will soon be shown the door.

  1. Define the job precisely and succinctly, including measurable objectives.
  2. Track performance.
  3. Fire the people who are not measuring up.
  4. Train and hire people who can get the job done well.

You won't fix the root problem by now and then jailing someone who got caught cheating.

The root problem is lack of opportunities for enrichment earned honestly. The poor structure is an entire culture built on favor, not competence. One law can change this.


  1. To be fair to any president, I think all of them started at a disadvantage.

    "If the failure is competency, then the Competency Engineer needs to be summoned. The DENR can't seem to stop the clear-cutting of trees. But that is the job. Why are they failing?"

    The only time people find out that the DENR is failing is when the logs come crashing in along with the mud.

  2. Then the Cabinet Secretary should be jailed for malfeasance.

  3. "...Fair Employment Act is so critically important. To build opportunity into the system. To establish "career" as a real word in the Philippines."

    Good intent but laws should be measured not by intent but by effectiveness and implementability. Even now, I could imagine how employers would go around it; besides, it is THEIR business, is it not? In government service, there is an equivalent law, but hell there is such a thing as "executive prerogative" to waylay whatever noble intent there is so easily.

    How to do it? You create an investment climate where investors come pouring in in droves and competition is real and strong such that companies are made to seek and compete for the best minds and hands with their best offers. When companies are protected from competition, they could make do with the mediocre-- with support from rent seeking. Competition for survival forces the hiring of the competents, the highly qualified and excellent minds and the re-ranking of the lesser kind, or else, they close shop.

  4. Ricelander, yes, competition would be a force in the right direction. But the oligarchs and established businesses are not likely to allow much foreign direct competition, I think. But you are right, that would weed out a lot of non-performers.

    Alas, it would not do much about government incompetence.

    Furthermore, I look at the existing favoritism as akin to racism, patently unfair to earnest, hard-working people who are better qualified than the people granted jobs. It should be against the law. It might apply to companies with more than 50 employees to exclude Mom and Pop enterprises, which are essentially family affairs.

  5. No, JoeAm, it won't work.

  6. Joe, I think your Fair Employment act is a nice idea.

    For it to become a law applied to all enterprises (except Mom and Pops), however, will mean that you have to come up with a nationalized set of competencies for all of the jobs in the Philippines. You have to take into account the cultural differences/ management differences from different businesses. A bank is run differently from a department store. Eliminating favoritism requires a cultural change. That should come from the top. Maybe training the business leaders of today can remedy that instead of forcing it down their throats with a law.

    I don't think an FEA is really necessary in the private sector. If employees are not satisfied or are unhappy, they are always free to move. However, the absence of jobs that pay high enough are not that abundant. This is where stimulating the interest of investors come in.

    Protectionism isn't the sole force that is stopping investors from coming in. The country has to present itself as a decent (big enough) market for foreign companies to come in.

    If we're talking about stimulating investments and driving competition, what areas are we exactly referring to? There's mining and BPOs. The energy sector is also one thing worth looking at. I think your friendly neighborhood oligarchs are already setting up camp there.

  7. It is DENR to stop clear-cutting but would they want to jeopardize their employment by stopping the powerful loggers ?

    This has come down to anti-wang-wang again. It will take benign0 to stop a wang-wanger down the street because if the traffic enforer stops wang-wanger without the clearance of benign0 before he knew it he'll be directing traffic in the lonely outpost of Spratlys.

    The strategic tactic of benign0 is let people be killed, then he c omes in like a shining armour. Cut heads at DENR and PAG-ASA and becomes a hero and the loggers sip chardonnay with him at Malacanang.

  8. Fair employment act? Yeah right. A good IDEA.

    Some more good IDEAS: democracy, human rights, fairness, Christianity, and Free Markets.

    Good luck with that Joe.

  9. This is all Noynoy’s fault. His administration should be held accountable for all these deaths.

    If GMA was still president, we won’t have any of this nonsense. If GMA was still president, the death toll of Sendong would have been 90% to 100% lower.

    And what does Noynoy do? Noynoy files these false charges against our Great Leader GMA. Noynoy is trying to re-write history by painting our brave and intelligent former president as a corrupt and weak leader to hide his own deficiencies.

    Hindi ba kayo naaawa kay GMA na naka neck brace and wheelchair na? Have you no heart? I literally wept upon seeing our once strong leader reduced to this state because of her illness.

    Huwag kayong mauto kay Noynoy! He is just distracting us from the real issues by blaming GMA for the poor state of our country. In fact, if GMA had 6 more years, we would have over taken Japan by now. YES, JAPAN!

    Mabuhay si GMA! GMA for president 2016! GMA president FOR LIFE!!!

  10. Topgrading is a byword in the corporate world, they swear by it and they live by it; but it will be a monumental task to implement such corporate culture in government more so when people keeps electing the same old fogeys or their scions into positions. These political dynasties are the number one stumbling block in reforming and upgrading our civil service because their primary motivation is to perpetuate themselves in power; good governance comes as an afterthought for them.

  11. bubi78, and they can't seem to grasp how rich they could become if they got the Philippine economy humming in a way that produced real wealth.


Please take up comments at the new blog site at

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.