A wish for the future of the Insurance Commission

As we approach the end of one administration and the dawn of another, now is the time to raise an issue that few talk about but that many feel strongly, whether on one side or on the the other from the fracture. Of the many elephants in the room, the one that needs to be recognized and understood is the value of political appointments to the posts of commissioner and his deputies.

A political appointee includes Cabinet Secretaries and their subordinates at the Under-Secretary, Under-Secretary, or Under-Secretary level, as well as the heads and deputies of most independent agencies. The power of appointment is the president of the republic, and the most important criterion, of the many that he must use in making his choice, is the capacity of the appointees to manage, design and effectively carry out new programs, implement implementing key legislation (both old and new) or providing services. In turn, the appointee, who possesses these necessary qualities, must be able to educate political leaders on the prerogatives of an agency and the unique attributes of the regulated industry, as well as maintain the delicate balance between the main mission of the agency and the political objectives of elected officials.

Therein lies the rub, the tightrope that the named person turns out 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” which requires favors to be paid, the “padrino system” which insinuates itself at all levels, the “palakasan system” as well as the “crab mentality” which is innate. Added to this are the interests of the various players in the industry, for whom we fight vigilantly, by all the means at our disposal. These hamstrings even the best of the named and who suffers the most is ultimately the belaying public.

In an article entitled “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 principal point that the authors wanted to emphasize is that “the differences in the organization of public services can be understood as the result of a game between several principals for the control of the bureaucracy. While the bureaucracy is, in principle, directed by the executive branch of government, the legislature cannot be deterred from being involved in determining the policies that the bureaucracy should follow. Thus, the bureaucracy must respond to the interests of at least two political constituents. These two constituents 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, which has caused a divergence in their political horizons and, therefore, in their priorities and interests. We must also recognize the fact that the same party does not usually control both branches. Clientelist politics provide the executive with a bureaucracy that is, to a large extent, in line with its wishes. This does not bode well for the legislative branch, which prefers a bureaucracy more in tune with its own political interests than those of the relatively transient members of the executive branch.

Add to that 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 so that it can make the appropriate decisions independently of the interests of the appointing powers and by extension of their “amicis”. I am pleased that our current commissioner and his deputies now have a fixed tenure independent of the executive, giving them more time to pursue their reforms and initiatives which have proven to be good for the industry given its growth figures unassailable. It will also pave the way for proper and efficient turnover in a timely manner.

My other timely wish is that the electorate think seriously and deeply as they exercise their power to choose our leaders in May. There is a lot at stake not just for my beloved industry, but for the entire government bureaucracy and everyone affected by it, and that means all of us.