The ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) and the establishment of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) have ushered in a new era for Muslim Mindanao, with the prospects for lasting peace better than ever before. It is the first step toward finding the resolve to the long struggle of the Bangsamoro people for social justice, economic equity and sustainable development. Notwithstanding, much remains to be done as we move forward with the implementation of the road map for the Bangsamoro, as agreed upon between the various parties concerned.
One of the main priorities should be to ensure that the resources deployed for development are strategically well-planned and supported by sound economic policies, that the Bangsamoro authorities have a key role in determining where and when the investments for development (loans and grants through financial aid and technical assistance) will be made, and who will be the beneficiaries. In other words, the Bangsamoro would need to ensure that development interventions will not be “donor-driven”, as is often the case in many countries where policy, planning and programming exercises are influenced heavily by powerful foreign governments and the aid agencies. Importantly, the development framework for the region must bear in mind the need for an inclusive and broad-based approach to economic growth and poverty reduction. It is equally essential that development partners show respect for the culture of the Bangsamoro, dignity to its traditional leadership, and for a meaningful participation of the Bangsamoro in deciding on the projects that they themselves can truly “own”.
This policy brief presents some thoughts and ideas on the challenges faced by the Bangsamoro in respect of governance and capacity building as related to development policy and management coordination. It draws on the experience of the author in the Asia-Pacific region and Mindanao and summarizes proposed measures and initiatives to help secure that resources made available for economic and social development are used in the most effective and efficient manner.
II. The ContextA common criticism by many is that the resources earlier provided to the authorities to ARMM after the signing of the 1996 peace agreement have been largely wasted. Skeptics argue that the institutions mandated to govern the development efforts at the time were either lacking in skills and capacity, or simply out-right inefficient and corrupt. It is also alleged that the central
 The author is senior adviser on development management for BDA and adjunct professor for public administration, and peace and development studies at MSU. Dr. Malik is former Director of ADB. The views expressed herein are solely those of the author.
Government of the Philippines (GPH) in Manila should also be held responsible for being non-responsive, allowing for inefficient practices or elite capture. There is, therefore, the pressing need to avoid such a situation from happening again. This time around, there is just too much at stake and this may well just be the last chance for Muslim Mindanao to succeed or fail.
The recent signing of the BOL between the MILF and the GPH has provided an opportunity for the Bangsamoro to set in motion a process of building skills and strengthening capacities, as well as setting in place appropriate governance structures, systems and mechanisms that will be responsive to the Bangsamoro Development Framework and the 10-points agenda set out by the Interim Chief Minister. It is also an opportunity to show to the development community that this time around the newly created Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) and its constituents are serious about ensuring accountable, transparent and participatory use of public resources. This is critical as the central government and development partners will be looking for prudent and effective use of scarce resources that have been promised to the allocated in the BOL - to the tune of PhP75 billion per annum – that will be made available in the form of the various development and normalization trust funds.
III. Suggested Measures and Initiatives for Consideration
- Establish a Structure for Supporting the Leadership in Public Policy and Development Cooperation
Effective development starts with a strong focus on economic policy management, planning and coordination. This requires an agency that is given the authority to carry out the mandate for formulating development plans and policies, and closely coordinating these with sector line agencies for their execution. An important aspect of a strong development agency is its governance structure. The agency does not necessarily have to be a large one at the initial stages, but one that has the appropriate units to handle the various priority sectors that warrant attention for the growth of the economy.
One good example of such an organization at the policy level, which initially started quite small and has gradually grown over the years, is Cambodia’s Supreme National Economic Council (SNEC). SNEC was established in 2001 to advise the Prime Minister (PM) of the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) on socio-economic policy including governance. It is attached to the PM’s Cabinet and is administratively placed under the country’s Council of Ministers.
SNEC has four principal functions: (a) coordinate policymaking for domestic and international economic issues, (b) coordinate economic policy advice for the PM,
(c) ensure that policy decisions and government programs are consistent with the RGC's economic goals, and (d) monitor implementation of the PM's socioeconomic policy agenda. SNEC also periodically reviews the sector plans prepared by the Ministry of Planning and other line agencies to ensure consistency across economic sectors.
It formulates an overall strategic plan from a policy perspective, prepares policy briefs for the PM, as well as an annual economic report. SNEC is chaired by the PM himself, and it’s organization includes the posts of Vice Chairman, a Secretary General and four Deputy Secretaries General. SNEC started off very small with a group of six senior hand-picked by the PM who were considered to be most competent individuals in various economic sector fields..
Advisory support to the SNEC in its initial days was provided by two international senior economic advisers who were highly knowledgeable of the country and has long experience in the Asia-Pacific region. They were supported by four Cambodian research assistants. As work grew in scope, SNEC began a gradual expansion plan. Today, after almost 20 years, SNEC has four specialist divisions – administration, governance, economic policy, and social policy - each headed by a Director, and a staff of over 100 personnel
It is recommended that the BTA Interim Chief Minister (ICM) and BTA consider emulating the SNEC model with appropriate adjustments to take into account the Bangsamoro context. A start can be made first by establishing a small Secretariat (possibly called the Development Policy Management and Coordination Secretariat or simply DPMC) within the Office of Executive Secretary, reporting directly to the ICM, and nominating core staff to the Secretariat for performing key functions such as those enunciated above. It is also recommended that for coordination with the civil society, BDA be an integral partner of the DPMC to secure policy consistency and program coordination with the civil society. Further, given some unique requirements of the Bangsamoro, the advisers can also make efforts to engage various Islamic financing institutions, such as the Islamic Development Bank, the Kuwait Fund for International Development and the Saudi Fund, to explore ways of bringing investments in to the Bangsamoro.
- Provide Advisory and Management Support to the Line Agencies’ Leadership
A second important facet has to do with strong leaders at the sector level who are backed up by sound technical and management expertise. If the requisite skills and expertise are not available within any agency, then a stop gap measure is for a group of advisers to support the leadership and management staff, and help capacitate them in leading effectively. In this context, it is vital that the advisory group chosen must have the adequate experience in economic policy and development planning, and should be sensitive to the needs, culture and aspirations of the Bangsamoro. The group must be credible for the leadership and possess the necessary diplomatic skills to act as the “honest broker” between the parties concerned. Key priority sectors that can be chosen first based on the ICM’s list of priorities include, health, education, agriculture and social services, and infrastructure. Moreover, managers appointed as counterparts to advisers must possess the skills mix for making the right policy choices and their implications on sector performance and the delivery of development targets.
By way of examples from the Asian region, a number of Mekong countries who also emerged from a conflict situation in the 1990s (Cambodia, as well as Laos and Viet Nam) followed this formula by appointing long-and short-term advisers, who were funded by either the RGC itself or through external support. A Chief Adviser managed other advisers’ outputs and performance. The role of the advisers was to assist in the capacitation of selected staff, formulation and review of policies and plans, facilitation of negotiations between the government and aid agencies on their investment programs, and help in coordination work across sector line agencies. The advisers were also responsible for organizing study tours to various Asian countries for officials of agencies. In the case of Viet Nam, an Eminent Persons Group was created which comprised prominent personalities from selected Asian nations and were tasked to periodically visit the agencies to share ideas on various paradigms of and approaches to development.
It is recommended that BTA / BARMM give serious consideration to placing a set of advisers who can assist the newly appointed Ministers, most of whom are neither technocrats and nor are they too familiar with the business of government. The advisers should also coordinate their work with the DPMC Secretariat to ensure consistency in development policy and help implement various projects and programs of the ministry concerned.
- Maximize Development Impact from Public and Private Investments
A third aspect requiring support and needs to be kept in mind at this stage of economic development in the Bangsamoro is that there are two sides to investment. One is the public investment part while the other need to deal with private investment. Quite often much of the energies are spent on dealing only with the public sector side of the equation, while the private investment part is not given adequate attention. However, as more and more confidence builds up among private sector parties and as peace finally begins to return to Muslim Mindanao with an improved law and order situation, it is likely that bigger and longer-term private sector partners (local and foreign) will become interested and investment with flow into the Bangsamoro. In particular, Mindanao offers a significant untapped potential for agri-business which when realized can help to meet the large and growing requirement of food in the country. Hence, the BTA through the DPMC should already start planning for this eventuality by including in its portfolio relevant staff for ensuring policy oversight and consistency in private sector investments in the region.
It is recommended, as proposed under the BOL that BTA create the Economic Development Board and the Sustainable Development Council at an early date. These two bodies would have to work closely with the current Regional Board of Investment and sector line ministries - most especially the Ministries of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform, Energy, Natural Resource and Environment, and Trade,
Industry and Tourism – where is good scope for private sector investments, to ensure that the private investment portfolio is closely aligned with the Bangsamoro Development Framework and that the policies enunciated are followed by private investors. Close coordination will also be needed with the proposed DPMC Secretariat as well as the BDA.
- Building Capacity and Strengthening Institutions
Considering the perceived weaknesses in development policy, planning and management in the BARMM, it will be important to request for technical assistance from aid agencies for implementing key policy and planning functions.
The following factors may be kept in mind while moving forward in this direction:
- Need for a Longer-term Engagement on Capacity Building Efforts
Capacity building must be seen as a long-term intervention (10-15 years), and not just for finding quick fix, short-term solutions. All too often, donors want to give assistance for only 2-3 years and then simply walk away from an unfinished job. Training efforts would also need to be coordinated with the advisory support (mentioned in the foregoing paragraphs) that has its own distinct function on providing day to day support for development management to the top leadership. The Bangsamoro must, therefore, insist on longer-term engagement but with due regard to demonstrating good performance under a phased program of assistance (say 2-3 years each and stretching over to 10 years or more) that will help merit continued support for capacity building.
In this regard, the idea of a proposed School of Peace and Democracy needs to be thought through carefully for providing training and capacity building of civil service cadre at various levels of the BARMM as well as the leadership and the cabinet at the helm of the new government. A beginning has been made in this regard by the UNDP with support from the Australian Government and discussions would need to be deepened further to ensure that the creation of the School is truly sustainable over the long term in terms of both financial and human resources.
- Choosing the Right Officials and Levels for Training
There is already a young and dynamic cadre of civil servants within the ARMM government and among the MILF who hold good promise of developing into solid leaders in the future to take charge of Bangsamoro affairs. Many of them have been trained at good universities within the country. Some of them have also undergone management and leadership training programs. These individuals (men and women) should be identified on a priority basis and interviewed in the selection process for training and development. The main idea is to develop a cadre of civil servants well-equipped with the skills and expertise in development
management who will be ripe for running the business of government in Muslim Mindanao. Training can be conducted at three levels: first, for the higher level of the BTA and the Parliament; second, for the Cabinet Ministers, and third, at the level of technocrats from line ministries.
A beginning has been made already in this regard for selecting the cadre of civil servants for the BTA. Some 70 officials from a range of MILF and other entities were selected carefully and underwent a two-part Training in Governance and Public Policy Process, held in Manila in December 2018 and April 2019. The training was conducted by The Hague Academy for Local Governance together with the Jesse Robredo Institute of Governance of De La Salle University. Such training needs to be sustained, deepened and widened, using the School of Peace and Democracy as a venue and cooperating with the Mindanao State University drawing on the MSU’s Mindanao-wide network of 14 campuses, including the Bangsamoro.
- Conduct of Special Studies on Topical Themes
As part of the training program, special studies on topical themes could also be commissioned on topical themes and issues as part of the long- term training exercises with the view to identifying next steps to tackling issues confronting the Bangsamoro on these themes. Advisers appointed at the DPMC and line agencies can be drawn upon to prepare the studies and also assist in the training efforts of staff of agencies concerned.
Some of the main issues or topical themes requiring urgent attention at the moment, among others, include Islamic Banking and Finance, Halal Industry Development, Islamic Education Policy, Technical and Vocational Education, Sustainable Rural Development and Agri-business Development Models, Climate Change, Fiscal Decentralization, Sources for Revenue Mobilization, and Public-Private Partnerships.
IV. Concluding Thoughts
The signing of the BOL marks the beginning of a long journey for bringing about genuine peace in Muslim Mindanao. However, for peace to be sustainable, key steps would need to taken for ensuring that development policy is consistent and external aid is closely coordinated across all economic sectors – all with the view to promoting growth that is genuinely inclusive, balanced and equitable. For this to occur, BTA / BARMM would need to have well-trained cadre of officials and institutions of accountability to ensure that the resources deployed through are used in an efficient and transparent manner. It is hoped that the ideas and thoughts elucidated in this policy brief will offer an opportunity for raising awareness on key institutional and human resource challenges and stimulate discussion and action on shared issues of concern, as the Bangsamoro moves forward in the journey for bringing lasting peace and development in the region.