Transparency: It’s an Attitude

Almost every Philippine government agency has an emphasis on transparency. Not because of law, necessarily, but because of the good governance initiatives of President Aquino and the understanding that the public wants it. Citizens and their agents, the press and watchdog groups, want SALN’s and financial information and other facts in order to keep an eye on a government that seems historically inclined to drift toward corruption and little favors like million-peso Christmas gifts from taxpayer accounts.
Let’s explore this animal “transparency” a little more, eh?
Here’s what says transparency means:
trans·par·en·cy   [trans-pair-uhn-see, -par-]  noun, plural  trans·par·en·cies.
  • Something transparent, especially a picture, design, or the like on glass or some translucent substance, made visible by light shining through from behind.
Well, that definition hints at what we are driving at, but clearly, we need to ask our good friend Humpty Dumpty to recast the definition to better suit what we are striving for. We need a definition that pertains to government agencies, not glass.
  • HDNWD: transparency (noun) The act of being candid with citizens regarding information about the activities and operations of a government unit.
Yeah, that’s better.
So what do we expect from a transparent government?
  • Well, first and foremost, we want to be able to track the money. So we need information on budgets and expenses. We need enough detail to be able to see where the big amounts go. This should be easily accessible on the internet.
  • We’d like SALN’s to know leaders are not enriching themselves by illicit kickbacks or budget shenanigans.
  • We need a method of public inquiry that is reasonable. For example, journalists and certain representatives of the public need to have the right to dig deeper. Not “at will”, but within some standards of reason. Guidelines need to be written to deal with requests.
  • Citizens need also to understand the vision, mission, strategies, and major tactics of government units. What’s the plan? Where are we now, where are we headed and how and when are we going to get there? The plan should have measurable benchmarks. Specific targets and timeframes.
  • Citizens then also need to be able to monitor progress toward goals and understand why there are variances from plan. Change in environment? Wrong estimate of timeframe or expenses? Essentially, the public is like a corporate “Board of Directors” and it can only do its job responsibly if it is given good information. If given good reports.
Those are the basics, I think.But there is one additional quality of transparency that I think government agencies miss. We can call it candor i suppose. And in the failure to be forthright, we can read a lack of  respect for citizens.

The persistent theme in government web sites is self-promotion. The everlasting engagement in public relations or politics rather than running the business of the people.

So many government web sites feature achievements or have glowing biographies of leaders. They emphasize the good and downplay or ignore the bad. In doing so they create a kind of fairy tale impression of glitter and gold and dancing in the castle with the prince. In truth, they are slogging up a muddy hillside in the rain trying to get to dry land.
The lack of objectivity is a lack of transparency, and it is dangerous. I know why it is done. Agency heads want the people to be confident in the agency. They want Philippine citizens to understand that the agency is doing a lot of good work for the Philippines.
But it is hiding from the truth. And it stops good works from getting done.
Playing PR with the citizens, or political games, is not transparency. To sit down with the Board of Directors and mislead them with glowing reports when the business is struggling is negligence at best and criminal at worst.
I’m inclined to think these are face-saving tricks played by the incapable as they try to hang onto their jobs. Or it is an elitist game played by officials who believe “the people aren’t smart enough to handle the truth”.
I think transparency requires having more confidence in Philippine citizens than that. It requires a belief that they are adults who can handle the good and the bad and accept that he bad sometimes comes with the territory. There is nothing wrong with a mistake or two along the path of progress. It is important to acknowledge when someone screws up. When conditions change. When someone made a decision with imperfect information.
Now, maybe Filipinos DON’T trust one another, and so my overlay of good corporate practices does not work in the Philippines. Maybe Filipinos do not cut anyone slack for not getting it perfect.
In that case, my argument is wrong.
But, if I ran a government agency web site, I would err on the side of confidence in Filipinos. I would put my performance targets smack dab on the Home Page.  I would explain when things were not going well, why, and what we are doing to adjust. And I would note when things are going according to, or better than, plan.
I’d be forthright and honest. Candid. I think that is a better way of gaining the confidence and backing of the public than blowing smoke.Transparency is more than an excel worksheet. It is an attitude that reflects confidence in, and respect of, Philippine citizens.

19 Responses to “Transparency: It’s an Attitude”
  1. Edgar Lores says:

    1. The goal of transparency is accountability. Accountability reinforces the notion that government is “for the people” and holds government officials responsible.2. I have googled several government departments. My starting search was “Philippine government”.2.1 There are several portals. The first one I tried, “Philippine Government, Departments, Embassies, Police and Army” lists 14 departments, had one misspelled, and had broken links. Google could not find the “Department of Agriculture”.2.2 The “Listing of the Philippines Government – abakada” lists 18 departments and appears to be the most complete and up-to-date. But the link to the “Department of Agriculture (DA)” was also broken, and also the “Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)”. It includes the Department of Education, Culture and Sports (DECS) which is obsolete.2.2 First observation: There probably should be an official government portal.3. The second observation that strikes you is that each department has its own site design. There is no standard. I don’t mind variety, but there should be general guidelines on page design.4. On transparency, there appears to be a general requirement of a “Transparency Seal” which most departments have.4.1 As there is no standard design, the Seal can appear anywhere: (a) left panel button; (b) right panel button; (c) menu option in the drop-down menu of the “About Us” tab; (d) a separate tab on the navigation bar. 4.2. The departments that meet the requirement of a Transparency Seal are:- Department of Budget and Management (DBM) has a Seal option under the “About DBM” tab.- Department of Energy (DOE) has a Seal button on the left side panel.- Department of Finance (DOF) has a Seal option under “The DOF” tab.- Department of Foreign Affairs has a “Budget and Utilization” option under “About the DFA”.- Department of Health (DOH) has an “Integrity Watch” tab.- Department of Justice (DOJ) has an “Annual Reports” option under the “About” tab. You are also confronted with a confrontational photo of the Secretary. – Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) has a “Transparency at Work” button on the right panel.- Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) has a Seal button on the right panel.- Department of Tourism (DOT) has a Seal button on the right panel.- Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) has a Seal button on the right panel.- Department of Trade * Industry (DTI) has a Seal option under the “About DTI” tab.- Department of Science and Technology has a Seal button on the left panel.4.4 The following departments either had no obvious menu option or no transparency information:- Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) no option- Department of Education (DepEd), as you noted, has a “Transparency Information” option on the drop-down menu for the “About DepEd” tab. But the page says: “This page will contain download links to the transparency information requirement”. So transparency is completely invisible!5. I think transparency is required most at the source of budget-making – the Congress.

  2. andrew lim says:

    ha ha ha The first definition of transparency you gave fits the thinking process of Nancy Binay and some bishops who insist their tarps are non-political and non-partisan.There's not much in there, so the light shines through! The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind! ha ha ha

  3. You are able to endure great pain, I can tell. It was actually the DepEd web site that motivated this blog. The schools are struggling, we all know that. But what we get from the web site is a touting all the wonderful achievements. The parts that work, that is.Your ideas about a common entry portal and standards for web sites are excellent. I'd suggest President Aquino appoint a web advisory and audit specialist to write the standards and critique the follow-through. Which gives me a blog topic, thanks. Deployment of the web as an official government strategy.

  4. ahahaha I crack up every time I read that Binay campaign motto:The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I think I'll develop this big-ass poster, like the size of those billboards down by the express way, with Nancy Binay's photo on it and the motto. Strictly for voter education mind you. Not for political purposes at all.

  5. Edgar Lores says:

    Andrew!You've got double-barrelled insight on your sniper's scope this morning!

  6. Vatican has imposed secrecy in their conclave. Dolan was told to shut up and zip up. The debate is not transprarent. Cardinals were ordered to be mum about Pope selection process. Since Philippines are Taliban Catholics, What Vatican says Filipino does. Filipinos legal precedence is American jurisprudence but this gets supplanted by religious precdence from the Vatican. NO TRANSPARENCY. SORRY, NA LANG.Pag-Ibig has never published their foreclosure rate. Philippine Housing cannot offer statistics on condominium occupancy and turn-over. It cannot even tell the Filipno people out of condoimiium sold how many are occupied. Others buy condo to park their excessmoney but never live there. SWS is useless. They are sooo far behind Rand Corporation and Pew Research in light years.There is no transparency in numbers in the Philippines because the bureaucrats are ignorant. Must be graduate from Philippine Ivy-schools. They could be brilliant pre-packed direct from the diploma mill. Their problem is they watch goofy TFC and read Philippine newspaper MOST OF THE TIME. It watered down what they learned in school.If Ateneo journalists spew out hazy biased report, the readers from ivy-schools would think this is the normal. So, they follow the baluktut because it is the normal.

  7. J says:

    Well, as usual, these people treat citizens stupid. But actually, they are the ones who are stupid since no amount of PR glitters would hide facts from citizens, who know the shortcomings of each government agency.

  8. I worry about travel time a lot. From monumento to Makati Ave takes me an hour and a half. This is not news to la Salle Editors. In America 7-minute 911 response time is slow and makes news. 65 hours/year sitting on New York turnpike is news. More so if it is cut down by 5 HOURS MAKES MORE NEWS. Time is not news in the Philippines because it is not transprarent because nobody is monitoring. Because the bureacuracy are run by Ateneo U.P. Graduates playing computer games in their government offices that get a kick of scowling down Pepe and Pilar.National Census and Statistics Office has no meaningful statistics. If I want statistics about Philippines I go to CIA dot com to get real statistics that can be understood by laymen. The Philippine government cannot even give me the top ten export and import products of 2012. I checked Central Bank and their statistics is soooo sparse. But here is what I found out. One of the top ten Philippine exports are electronic products. BUT the top ten imports are elecgtronic knock downs. Therefore, Philippines are just assembler of electronic products. What is not in their statistics are human exports. I have to go to POEA to get a very old two-year ago statistics.And the Philippine Government call it TRANSPRARENCY. Fortunately for the PHilippine Government their PHilippine Media is equally dumb to know what transparency is. They can talk about it but cannot know what benefit it gives.How can they know? They cannot even know that Abu Sayaf terrorists ARE NOT PUBLICITY SHY. They do not self-criticize each other unlike in 1st world country. To this day the U.P. Journalism graduate has not wrapped their brain around the useless Coast Guard Cutter which is billed by benign0 Aquino a naval component against China and yet it has no guns and cannons.

  9. Forget SALN. SALN is only used against some sucker when there is a falling out from the powers like Child abuse against Willie Revillame. SALN is to Corona, Child Abuse is to Willie Revillame.What is common among the two is Corona stepped on the wrong foot of benign0 Aquino. Just the same Corona is guilty and should be found guilty.Child Abuse was goot ammunition against god-like Willie Revillame. Jollibee pulled their ads because of Child Abuse despite Jollibee's knowledge that poor hungry children are dumpster diving to eat left-over chicken joy and soda pop. The brilliant Philippine Media cannot even see state-sponsored child abuse. They seee it everyday but did not define it as child abuse. Like Transparency, they do not know it. Media talk about transparency but really do not know it like child abuse and privacy laws.

  10. That is an interesting point, Mariano, that the Vatican operates in complete secrecy. That way, I presume, they can avoid any individual accountability and fall to God as justification for whatever they do. Or maybe they feel under attack, and, like the CIA, operate with complete secrecy. For security purposes. Well, except for demographics, as you say. On that the CIA is indeed better than the Phillipine government at tabluating Philippine matters. Go figure.

  11. Yes, and I think the internet is and will open more and more eyes to when stupid takes center stage. And start pointing the finger of accountability.

  12. I think SALN's ought to be taken seriously. They have not in the past, agreed. Perhaps there needs to be an "Office of Accountability" that audits trend lines. Certainly a probing press would. And should. That would give the documents meaning.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Transparency…I am just so sick and tired of these same old recycled catch phrases we seem to get every now and then. If the government wants my confidence, then show me some results. Show me how many aspiring entrepreneurs received their business permits in a non retarded fashion. Tell me all about what system was put in place, so we can now begin to expect non retarded law enforcement. Show me a list of the retarded government procedures that has now been deemed retarded and removed, and citizens can now get their documents without wishing for every government employee in the building to get bone cancer. Ok maybe the cancer bit was too much, but the small stretch of road they've been trying to repair in my neighborhood shouldn't take more than 3 god-d@%m months.

  14. The only people taking SALN seriously is Shengen Visa when my wife and son applied to visit Rome to deliver the newly minted Cebuano saint.Shengen(Belgium) asked for SALN, bank statement for past two years to establish that the 500,000 pesos average monthly balance was not just recently deposited, recent paystubs of past two months. For my son I have to turn in paystubs, bank statement.Shengen gave them 5-year multiple entry to any country of their choice within EU.

  15. "3 god-d@%m months?" That is what call fast efficient delivery of public works !!!Widening of Consolacion-Liloan Road has already taken 3 years !!!! THREE YEARS !!!! It took the Japanese to build the bridge less than a year over Bay of Consolacion (longest suspended bridge of Cebu)connecting Mandaue City to Consolacion BUT THE WIDENING IS STILL 3 YEARS behind and officials said that 3-years IS STILL AHEAD OF SCHEDULE !!!!HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! I so love Philippines. It will take benign0 Aquino to go to Cebu to make the road widening happen. That means he has to bring his pick-and-shovel to do it. (What goot is a goot president if 99.9999% of Filipinos are not goot still holds true)You are right, Anonymous, Metro Manila Gov cannot give us the breakdown of businesses being applied for. A foreign or balikbayan businessman cannot know if particular business is saturated already because they do not have statistics. Statistics is transparency. THE FILIPINO GOVERNMENT JUST DO NOT HAVE IT and they are in 2013 in the year of their My Lord God Help us.

  16. But, Anonymous, what is transparent is the brain of bureaucrats, U.P. Ateneo and la Salle Graduates running the Philippine Media. They are sooo transparent that it is sooo obvious to foreign media that they are not competent of their trade. Remember that Penensula Hotel putsch led by a PMA captain who is now a Senator? Well, the Philippine Media with their sensationalist desires screamed to the world COUP-DE-T'AT !!! They were just ignored by the news wires. After several days they downgraded it to "misunderstanding" from "Coup-de-Ta't".

  17. Anonymous says:

    Nope, repair has been going on for 3 months and still going. If I ever hear anybody say how proud they are because Filipinos are just so smart and talented, I'm going to kick a puppy.

  18. Anon, pick a small one. The big ones can bite. I am with you all the way.Thanks for stopping by and amusing me with your pain. The bone cancer remark has me in an eternal state of laughter. I avoid government offices and the inside of banks like the plague, and visit ATM's at 5 in the morning before all the cement heads and loan transactors get there.

  19. Now that's the way an SALN should work.

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