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KISSA AND DAWAT | Merit-based selection: Can it be done?




ZAMBOANGA CITY (MindaNews) – Recruitment and selection is one key personnel function currently undertaken in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM). This is consistent with the new Administrative Code. About 6,000 personnel were earlier affected by the phaseout, except for those in the education, health, social services department. Massive recruitment was undertaken and continues to be undertaken to this day. A job portal was set up and each ministry and commission established their own recruitment and selection standards and processes.

I remember my own unique experience in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). Mujiv Hataman became the officer-in-charge (OIC) of the ARMM from 2011 to 2012. After winning the regional election in 2013, he ordered his cabinet officials to tender their voluntary resignation to give way to a unique selection process that not even cabinet aspirants at the National Government had undertaken.

Selection by Merit. Yet here we yielded to this unique selection process. It matters not one is an incumbent or new applicant, friend or not, known or unknown, experienced or not, so long as one is an aspirant. Here is a meritocracy in action, in ARMM!

We learned that the Regional Governor would have as many bases as possible. Also, the process gives chance to new applicants who may have fresh ideas to bring into the system. There is pressure for the incumbents who have been with him for the last 18 months – can they still deliver more? How about their shortcomings? For new aspirants, through this process they need to show and convince they are up to the challenge, they can walk the talk, they are trustworthy, they have the guts, they are who the Regional Governor is looking for.

Tests for Mental Ability, Aptitude Classification, and Personality Profile. For many incumbents and aspirants, the five tests were their first encounter. Has anyone heard of Turnstone’s Test of Mental Alertness? How about the Flanagan Industrial Tests? Or Gordon Personality Profile? I know many of us googled them after the test. That was a weekend never to be forgotten by more than a hundred aspirants for secretaries, assistant secretaries, directors, consultants, and senior technical specialists.

For me these tests are more like personality and skills assessment, there is no passing or failing, just a set of tests that will guide the Regional Governor in selecting whom he can work with and rely upon for his three-year term. From his point of view, I can surmise questions like – Can he work with this person? Does s/he have the right attitude? Can s/he work under pressure? Can s/he deliver?

Process Management by the Development Academy of the Philippines. A team from the Development Academy of the Philippines (DAP), who managed the whole selection process, repeatedly said, no one is exempted. There were a number of aspirants who simply turned around when they realized what is about to happen. A few were insistent that they are carrying several endorsements from influential national or provincial officials.

Strategic Workshop. Aside from taking these tests, there was a workshop to determine the aspirant’s capacity to plan strategically. It is also a way to assess the aspirant’s depth of appreciation of the agency’s internal strengths and weaknesses, and external opportunities and threats. The output includes expressing the agency’s charter statement; identification of key reform areas, outcome and performance indicators; and an action plan based on the applicant’s personal appreciation. In the end, this individual strategic planning session determined whether the aspirant has the necessary management skills to lead a regional agency. It is fair enough.

Panel Interview. Finally, we have to go through a panel interview. The panelists for the interview include the Regional Governor, Regional Vice Governor, DAP professors, and Civil Society representatives. To defend one’s Strategic Plan before this panel and to convince them that the aspirant is best suited for the position. All of these in less than 48 hours, whew! Tough, yes. Rigid, yes. But I saw something personal and positive out of this process. More than the outcome, I was keen on getting feedback from the tests. How was I doing – my strengths and weaknesses? What’s the test showing about my personality? What’s the DAP professors’ evaluation of my plan and presentation? Que sera sera.

Personal Faith. Looking back, I am happy to have approached this process with an open mind. Going through was already a professional development for me. I put my faith in Allah, as taught in our theology. Nothing happens without His excuse. Things happen for a reason. Back then, I thought, if things will not come my way, I am grateful for the opportunity of serving my own people and region. God may have other plans for my future. If this thing will come my way, which eventually did, then serving the people is akin to serving God. As we are reminded in our theology, he who is compassionate to his fellows, Allah will also be compassionate to him.

The proof is in the pudding. It is now the turn of the BARMM government to demonstrate their recruitment and selection standards and processes. News travel fast these days. Recruits are announced through their social media accounts. Will the fresh recruits usher in an organizational culture that is corruption- and clientelism-free or minimal? Will they usher in public management that is transparent, efficient and accountable bureaucracy? Can the new recruits marshal enough force from within to truly make public service as realization of the public trust, where personnel loyalty is to the rule of law and ethical principles above personal gains? Are all these part of the “Moral Governance” mantra of the government of the day?

As we say, the proof is in the pudding. Time is what they need to demonstrate their competence to deliver and this is why they argue for the extension. The success of the ministerial system as a new form of governance hinges in part to the old personnel and new recruits who now form part of the regional bureaucracy. We wish them all the best!

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Noor Saada is a Tausug of mixed ancestry – born in Jolo, Sulu, grew up in Tawi-tawi, studied in Zamboanga and worked in Davao, Makati and Cotabato. He is a development worker and peace advocate, former Assistant Regional Secretary of the Department of Education in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, currently working as an independent consultant and is a member of an insider-mediation group that aims to promote intra-Moro dialogue.)


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