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Do we suffer from ‘bureauphobia’?

Do we suffer from ‘bureauphobia’?


In order for public-private partnership (PPP) arrangements to happen, there must be private sector proponents (PSPs) who are willing to deal with the government through its implementing agencies (IAs). IAs must, likewise, be open to partnering with PSPs.

If a PSP is bureaucracy-risk-averse, is not willing to face political risks or suffers from “bureauphobia,” as described by Dr. Ichak Adizes in his January 3 blog, then, obviously, there could be no PPPs. Relatedly, IAs must acknowledge that there are gaps and believe that there are benefits in partnering with outsiders or PSPs.

What is bureauphobia? According to Adizes, “bureau-phobia is…induced by the environment we live in.” He admits “feeling the symptoms of bureauphobia” as he “look[s] at the papers (referring to IRA, tax and trust documents) and becoming paralyzed.” He asks, “How in the world can I fill out these forms and not make a mistake? And what will be the repercussions if I make a mistake?” He anchors his fear of the bureaucracy from the government’s intrusion into people’s lives and the resulting punishment for noncompliance with government impositions.

What is the traditional meaning of bureaucracy? Max Weber lists the characteristics of a bureaucracy: Government agencies have fixed jurisdictional areas; are ordered by rules and regulations; have regular activities required, which are distributed as official duties; have the authority to give commands required for discharge of these duties; and have methodical provisions where regular and continuous fulfillment of these duties are performed.

IAs have a broad or limited functional or territorial jurisdictions. No two IAs are alike. In the Philippines we have agencies focused on a particular territory and those focused on water distribution, reclamation, ports, airports, power and economic zones, among others.

How does PPP fit in the bureaucracy? For PPPs, the traditional notion of a bureaucracy is still relevant. An IA can only pursue a PPP project if it is consistent with its mandate, undertaken based on set rules and procedures and executed by responsible officials. IAs cannot violate their respective charter and laws. For example, the Philippine Ports Authority cannot enter into a PPP for an airport, while Makati City cannot have an arrangement with a PSP for a monorail in Mandaluyong City.

How must we view the bureaucracy? An IA must be seen as both an institution and also an instrument. IAs must perform their mandate with the end in view of serving the people. IAs must work toward a better quality of life for Filipinos. But IAs may need to go beyond their walls and work outside the box, without violating any law.

Entering into a PPP with a PSP is one way by which an IA, which is still part of the bureaucracy, exercises flexibility and assumes an external focus. Through the PPP, the IA becomes a market and network organization, as described by Johan Olsen.

The IA engages the market, enters into a commercial contract with a PSP, and the relationship is governed by said contract. The partnership calls for an exchange of resources, sets the performance measures, and allows for innovation.

For a PSP to partner with an IA, it must know, trust and not fear the government. For our sake, we must overcome bureauphobia while making IAs responsible and responsive.

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