I had only recently written about appointments to top government posts when I learned about the offer of the DPWH top position to a politician who is also the son of power couple of former and present senators. Their core business is real estate development so there is definitely going to be conflicts of interest whenever certain infrastructure are built that will favour the development of their lands. This is basically the issue for the controversy regarding the Circumferential Road 5 Extension more than 6 years ago, which alleged that former Sen. Manny Villar (then running for President) influenced the DPWH to construct the highway that mainly benefited lands his company developed.
Having a politician at the helm of the DPWH is not a good idea. While apologists for the President-elect want us to give the guy a chance and explain that the soon-to-be-President probably saw something in the congressman that makes him qualified for the job, I must disagree with them given what I’ve seen up close with the DPWH. Here are a few arguments against a politician being DPWH Secretary:
- A politician as head of the DPWH will be more likely to give in to politicians (e.g., congressmen) requesting the appointments of ‘more favourable’ District Engineers (i.e., those who will do their bidding). This is basically going back to the ‘padrino’ system that is undesirable for such posts as they become prone to abuse and anomalies particularly in contracting.
- The DPWH Secretary chairs the Road Board, which is in-charge of funds collected from Motor Vehicle Users Charge (MVUC). This means the Secretary will have a say on how funds will be allocated and disbursed under the difference special funds (e.g., Special Road Safety Fund and Special Vehicle Pollution Control Fund). A politician will have no qualms approving requests for projects proposed by his allies or party-mates regardless of the merits or justification (weak?) of a program or project. This position requires objectivity and insulation against political pressure that may lead to questionable decisions.
- Governance-wise, the DPWH Secretary is expected to have a clear vision for the agency and must be an imposing figure to an organization where everyone under him including Undersecretaries and Assistant Secretaries will be organic staff. This is unlike other agencies where the Secretary gets to bring in his/her own people to appoint as senior officials (e.g., DOTC). And DPWH will only perform as good as its head. Outgoing Sec. Singson has shown how good and efficient DPWH can be under an excellent Secretary. Past heads have already shown how bad DPWH can be.
A couple of friends also mentioned that the DPWH Secretary sits on the National Water Resources Board (NWRB) and the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) is basically under the DPWH. There is conflict of interest here because the Villars own a water concessionaire in Primewater. The DPWH Secretary will also sit on the Infrastructure Committee (Infracom) that screens and approves major infrastructure projects around the country.
Since the next President has already decided on his choice for DPWH Secretary and the nominee has already accepted this, then we can only cross our fingers and hope that his appointee will be doing a good job and will uphold the current mantra of the DPWH: right projects, right cost, right quality, right on time and right people.