All the right moves
In a public service environment, indeed a culture, riven by corruption and inefficiency, people are all too willing to hail anyone who stands out from the rest, who displays a modicum of hard work and honesty, and who appears to be self-effacing as well.
Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto is being hailed these days as an exemplar of good governance, a city mayor who upholds transparency by reporting to his constituents the accomplishments of his office and the priorities he has set out for his term.
Every public official does this, of course, but Sotto stands out by the manner he carries out this chore: humbly, with no hint of hubris or heroics, almost matter-of-fact, and spurning any opportunity to promote himself or create a cult following.
A recent accomplishment was saving Pasig over P150 million from July to November this year through what Sotto called “honest to goodness” public bidding for its goods and services.
This was made possible by Sotto’s order that all “Approved Budget of Contracts (ABC)” be reduced by a minimum of 10 percent, which he then buttressed by opening the bidding process to the public through social media, and making sure correct procedures were followed.
The bidders then became more competitive and consequently submitted lower bids, according to Sotto, eventually making possible savings of P1.8 million or 25 percent for the improvement of a barangay hall after the city gained a winning bid of P5.5 million, lower than the ABC of P7.38 million.
Likewise, the winning bid for requirements of the city’s engineering department was at over P212,000, lower than the ABC of P571,680, saving the city over P359,980 or 63 percent.
These savings, said Sotto, would be plowed back to the city’s coffers to be used on other priority areas, such as health services.
“It isn’t easy to clean up (our city government),” the mayor added. “But our hardship is well worth it. Because in the end, ordinary citizens will benefit. We will have more funds for other services, especially for health.”
The drive for a more open government seemed, at the very least, to be in line with Pasig’s trailblazing freedom of information (FOI) law — a measure that Sotto himself had championed when he was still a councilor, and which made Pasig the first city in Metro Manila to have its own FOI ordinance.
Before this latest mayor’s report, Sotto also gained social media attention when netizens posted shots of Christmas gift bags from the city government that were remarkable for what was missing: a photo of the mayor and even his name.
Instead, the bags simply carried the words “Pasig City.” Even more remarkable, Sotto explained that the exercise in annual largesse was also part of a survey to gather baseline data on the socioeconomic status of Pasig’s residents, making planning for future projects easier and based on real needs and priorities.
It is such strategic, well-planned and long-term moves that distinguish Sotto from other local government officials.
Someone like Manila chief executive “Yorme” Isko Moreno, for instance, makes headlines and photo-ops aplenty with such high-profile projects as clearing streets of obstructions and garbage, or lighting up heritage structures like Jones Bridge.
Sotto appears to prefer a more low-key, nose-to-the-grindstone approach to his governance, recognizing that genuine reform requires patience and persistence.
In a personal essay published in a website of his alma mater Ateneo de Manila University, Sotto wrote at length on the challenges faced by local officials like him.
“The biggest challenge for me as someone who wants to push for change — however far we can go with it — has nothing much to do with my age. It’s really the culture of government, and the norms that are already in place. It’s hard to introduce change in a very bureaucratic, procedural, and rigid government,” he said.
“The key is finding the right balance: move too slowly and nothing will happen; move too fast, and the people may not be ready for it.”
He appears to be making all the right moves so far. While the people of Pasig may eventually become a “city on a hill,” as it were, an example of what good, no-nonsense governance can do courtesy of a maverick chief executive—the way Naga City was under the late Jesse Robredo (not incidentally, Sotto’s idol and inspiration for a public servant) — other local government units and their leaders across the country may want to take a look at the fresh blast of politics bringing transparency, accountability and no-frills decency to the running of a complex, rapidly modernizing community much like their own, and learn from it.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.