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System D and the People’s Survival Fund

by: Kairos dela Cruz

Débrouillard (dā bro̵̅o̅ yȧr′) is a French term describing the way one adapts to and overcomes challenges. System D is its shorthand.  Someone practicing the débrouillard arts is able to think quickly, spot new angles, and approach differently any situation with regard to objectives and goals. In short, System D gets the job done.

When I first read about System D, the first thing that came to mind was how reassuring it would be to see this approach play out in the effort to operationalize the People’s Survival Fund (PSF). I got my wish and saw the approach unfold in the old National Treasury building in Intramuros last June 19.

Several recent opinion pieces have speculated on the future of the PSF. All have asked aloud why the government is taking too long to operationalize the Fund. It’s a legitimate question. Yet those exposed to the matter of climate-related funds know the answer will never be easy, at least in the near future. The complexity of climate change as an issue is compounded by the complexity covering the menu of potential responses, most of which overlap, intersect and underpin the premises required for the country to meet its most fundamental development goals. And yet it cannot be denied that despite the permeating complexity it has taken too long indeed to make the fund run if we are to start counting from the day of its enactment — August 16, 2012 – till the present. What should temper frustration, however, or, rather, what can temper frustration, is the recognition that the frustration is not felt by civil society alone, as if non-government actors do not share the urgency in acting to support vulnerable communities on the front line of the climate crisis.

The recently concluded 4th PSF Board meeting shows that almost everyone on the Fund board shares the sense of urgency and enthusiasm needed to deploy domestic, dedicated climate change funds in the right modality to localities ready to meet the climate challenge.

The change of leadership in the PSF Board, the eager spirit of cooperation between government and non-government representatives and the proactive stance of the secretariat confirmed my sense of what System D can deliver.

Undersecretary Bobby Tan of the Department of Finance assumed leadership of the board for the first time. As the chair, he came prepared and ready to swing. And swung he did, in a unique restrained way. His voice in the board empowered board members to search – and find — new angles required to implement the Fund’s goals.

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Yes it’s there!: A highlighted paragraph in the 2015 General Appropriations Act (GAA) showing that the PSF is finally funded after two years of enactment. PSF will be made available within the year to vulnerable local government units and communities.

Usec. Tan with Sec. Lucille Sering of the Climate Change Commission proposed a lens-sharing collaboration between the PSF Board and the Municipal Development Fund Office (MDFO) to ensure that the PSF can be directly accessed by local government units and communities. The direct access of the fund – a central tenet of the Fund by the PSF Law’s authors — was almost compromised by the unthinking insistence of a Board member to course PSF funds for localities through national agencies. This, despite the intentions of the law’s authors, and despite the tested and thoroughly demonstrable capacity and integrity of the MDFO as a funding office, and despite the widely picked up statement in media of Department of Budget and Management Secretary Florencio Abad saying the government was underspending largely because of serious absorptive capacity issues of national offices.

Usec. Tan and Sec. Sering, however, called for “innovation and flexibility” while representatives from the academe, business, and NGO sectors echoed the call by sharing a great array of insights as to how the intentions of the law, particularly its direct access goal, can be undertaken without compromising fiduciary standards and effective planning, deployment and monitoring of PSF funding. Among the more important features highlighted: MDFO has institutional linkages with the Commission on Audit and local governments, covering the entire archipelago, with highly trained and highly motivated staff, and the fact that its portfolio it has been managing since its founding is several magnitudes larger than the PSF, and of course, the fact that the MDFO’s structure gives it the unique ability to implement the direct access goal of the Fund, meaning, funding for localities need not be coursed through cumbersome national agencies that are unable to deliver resources adequately to begin with, based on the needs, modality and amount that localities require.

Like other débrouillards, the PSF board tackled the agenda with a proactive mindset.

The Fund board also succeeded in putting on the table critical aspects of implementation such as access process and flow, prioritization criteria in selecting successful applicants, eligibility requirements, registration of local organizations, and the “call for proposal” schedule this year. Yes, 2015. The PSF board members shared bits and pieces of already existing practices, which the Secretariat can now choose to adopt as part of the Fund’s manual of operations.

The PSF Board decided it will meet as often as needed. It chose to meet again on July 10 to ensure the fund will be utilized within the current fiscal year. Schedules are tight and getting tighter by the minute, but I am betting this will all go well. I think it will even surpass what was achieved in the Fund board’s 4th meeting. We have the best débrouillards working together; it is like banking on a 100% chance that the job will be done.

 

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