Thursday, April 29, 2010

'Guideposts for Governance'

OFF THE PRESS IS DR. JESUS P. ESTANISLAO’S book “Guideposts for Governance” which moist-eyed candidates hoping to win in the May 10 elections should read and take to heart.

Estanislao is founding chair of the Institute for Solidarity in Asia (ISA) and was finance secretary during the Aquino administration. Early this month, I wrote about the efforts of ISA and other groups helping government agencies and local government units as they go through a process of transformation. ISA is an independent, non-partisan, not-for-profit institution that seeks to improve public governance through citizen participation.

“This is a more compelling story than the elections,” Estanislao said then. “Here are government agencies backed by private sector partners saying that governance reforms cannot take a back seat even during an election season.”

In “Guideposts for Governance,” Estanislao reminds that the word “governance” does not apply only to the highest level of a nation’s government. Good governance is for civic groups, corporations, institutions and local government units as well.
But Estanislao also strongly reminds the reader about the role of the individual. Before any group can be effectively governed, he says, the basic unit of any group—the individual—must know how to govern himself or herself. He therefore argues for personal governance which is key to successful governance of groups—big or small, local or global, private or government.
In “Guideposts,” Estanislao argues for the creation of a unique culture driven by four core values: integrity, fairness, courage and orderliness. These values must be nurtured at the personal, organizational and national levels. And always, he goes back to the individual.

Estanislao says that many of the lessons on good governance culture discussed in his book he learned from his experience in building and cultivating such a culture at the Development Bank of the Philippines and the University of Asia and the Pacific.

The book has four main parts: 1. Personal Governance, 2. Institutional Values, 3. Social Values, 4. Institutionalizing a Governance Culture.

In the first part, Estanislao argues for a personal-values program on which governance is built. Values, like ideals and ideas, are abstract, Estanislao says, and they need to be translated into flesh-and-blood circumstances; they need to be made real, and not just occasionally but habitually. Yes, to the point that they become personal virtues.

“This is what a personal-governance program seeks to achieve,” he writes, “to help every individual within the corporation or institution make a habit of good acts, which thereby become personal virtues, giving flesh and real substance to personal values.”

I like this “habit of good acts” which seems to be getting lost in the din of the daily grind, in government institutions especially, where the lowliest among us turn to for succor and basic services. One need not be in a service-oriented agency or group to get into the “habit of good acts.” (I think this would make a good catch phrase that many public servants could live by.)

Estanislao cannot emphasize enough the importance of “a center of governance and leadership” which he keeps mentioning in his book. I presume it means both a physical and a moral center.

“Guideposts,” to me, is a highly cerebral book and is not summer reading fare. Post-election reading maybe, to challenge the candidates’ obdurate brain cells that got fried in the summer heat. It is probably best dissected and digested in a workshop setting where real-life situations can be presented.

A sampler: “A center for governance and leadership promotes and instills a governance culture that facilitates the achievement of breakthrough results through the proper execution of strategy. Through such a culture, which everyone in the institution or organization imbibes and actually exhibits, those breakthrough results should represent merely a peak from which to scale even higher peaks.

“Sustaining such a high-level performance by taking a systemic approach to strategy formulation and execution is what the institutionalization of proper governance does at all levels, and indeed delivers down to the level of individuals within the organization. That is the premium that the performance governance system (PGS) should provide.”

The PGS is a local adaptation of the Balance Scorecard System applied to the public sector in several countries to track their performance against a set of goals. ISA has been using this for government agencies and local government units undergoing transformation.

A part of the book that should be easy for candidates is Part 1, Chapter 1 which is on integrity.

“For all of us, integrity means honesty, that we never take what is not rightfully our own. It means staying clean, free from the slime and dirt of graft and corruption.

“But for any center for governance and leadership, integrity means much more than being free from the stain of corruption. It means wholesomeness: that everyone in a governance unit—be it a corporation, a national institution, a sectoral organization, an LGU, or any other public or private governance unit—lives his or her life and work in full consistency with his or her ideals and values.

“We are wholesome if we manage to keep ourselves whole amid the vicissitudes of our work and life. We do not allow ourselves to broken into bits and pieces… we have clear priorities to serve, definite goals to achieve within certain time frames… there is full inner consistency in our work and life.”

Heavy as it is, “Guideposts” is a gold mine for good governance.