A CAMPAIGN promise by President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. to fill up vacant positions and regularize contractual workers in government as well as the approval of questioned confidential funds in the 2023 budget taint the administration’s plan to rightsize the bureaucracy, according to analysts.
Czarina Medina-Guce, a governance consultant and development studies lecturer at the Ateneo De Manila University, said streamlining government agencies is a “much needed” reform in a country.
Rightsizing, she said in an email interview, is a means of ensuring that “taxpayers’ money is spent on programs and services that have an impact and reduce functions and projects that are outdated or underperforming.”
Budget Secretary Amenah F. Pangandaman said in July, the start of the Marcos administration, that her department supports the rightsizing plan to achieve an efficient and “agile” bureaucracy that will be responsive in a digital era.
Ms. Pangandaman, in a statement on July 13, said 187 government agencies and government-owned and controlled corporations will have to be evaluated for possible “merging, restructuring or abolition.”
There are over 1.86 million permanent government positions as of 2021, of which 1.68 million are filled, according to data from the Department of Budget and Management.
In addition, there are an estimated 640,000 contractual or job-order workers in government.
The Budget chief said trimming the workforce by 5%, for example, would mean P14.8 billion in savings in the government’s personnel services cost.
Terry L. Ridon, a public investment analyst and convenor of think tank InfraWatch PH, said the rightsizing plan leaves a bad taste in the mouth considering billions in confidential and intelligence funds allocated in the 2023 budget to the President’s office as well as the vice-president’s and Department of Education.
The signed 2023 national budget includes confidential funds worth P2.25 billion for the office of the president (OP), P500 million for the office of the vice-president, and P150 million for the Department of Education, which the vice-president serves as its secretary. The OP was also granted intelligence funds worth P2.31 billion.
“During times of fiscal stresses, government pins much of the blame on a bloated bureaucracy,” Mr. Ridon said via Twitter message.
He said that there is contradiction in pushing to streamline government agencies while retaining billions of pesos in confidential and intelligence funds as well as unspent funds due to limited absorptive capacity among departments and local governments.
Ms. Medina-Guce said streamlining the civil service must involve the agencies, who themselves must review their structures, functions, and development plans.
“It’s an opportunity to update how human resources are developed in government,” she said.
Mr. Ridon, on the other hand, warned that rightsizing would be political and affect smaller agencies with limited project funding, insufficient personnel, and those with minimal interactions with Malacañang and Congress.
During his presidential campaign for the May 2022 elections, Mr. Marcos vowed to fill up 180,000 vacancies in government and regularize job order workers in national and local government agencies.
In his first address to Congress in July, Mr. Marcos listed rightsizing as one of his priority measures.
The House of Representatives has included the rightsizing bill as one of the 12 priority measures once it resumes on Jan. 23.
The House committee on government reorganization approved on Nov. 28 a draft substitute bill on the proposed National Government Rightsizing Act.
Santiago Dasmariñas, Jr., national president of the Confederation for Unity Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees (COURAGE), called the prioritization of government rightsizing “a complete reversal” of Mr. Marcos’ campaign promise.
Mr. Dasmariñas said the administration should instead prioritize the regularization of contractual workers and the implementation of a P33,000 national minimum wage, both of which already have corresponding House bills filed. — Beatriz Marie D. Cruz