Last week, Jay Art Tugade submitted his irrevocable resignation as Land Transportation Office Administrator due to differences in management styles with his boss DOTr Secretary Jimmy Bautista.
If this were a divorce proceeding it is what we might call as irreconcilable differences.
What these differences were, both gentlemen did not say.
But we can surmise that the differences must have been acute because it triggered the resignation of Tugade.
At least, he is man enough to do it unlike others who would just have swallowed their pride to stay in that position. He served for only about five months which is perhaps one of the shortest stints.
Of all the DOTr line agencies, the LTO is one of the most sought after positions. Indeed, it is such a high profile position even if the head of the agency is an Assistant Secretary which is a third tier position in a department.
Since it deals with road vehicles, it is constantly in the line of fire because of its daily interaction with the public.
Of late, however, due to the many unresolved issues that have plagued the agency over the years – like the issuance of paper licenses due to the lack of plastics and the 12-year-old car plate problem which, to this time, has not been fully solved – there is that urgent need for reforms in the agency.
We can understand if a government agency finds it difficult to solve a problem for six months or even a year but 12 years is unheard of anywhere in the world.
Tens of thousands of car owners who have paid for their car plates years ago deserve something better.
It is unacceptable that this project has not been completed. The LTO owes it to the public to provide a satisfactory explanation.
When this project was first launched in 2012, it generated a lot of controversy.
But the LTO leadership at that time went ahead with it.
After a leadership change in the agency, problems started to show up.
The new officials that followed never really did anything substantive to solve the problem because they had no incentive to solve the problem.
The joke that circulated at that time: why solve a problem that did not benefit the succeeding officials.
Past practices in the agency was that every time a new leadership comes in, a new project also enters the picture.
For instance, the case of early warning devices.
If readers can recall, car owners were required to buy the device before registration.
But, as we now all know, this is no longer required.
Come to think about it, the car plate problem is really not such a difficult issue to resolve because if the car plates of vintage cars could easily be made available, the new plates could as well.
But perhaps the reason is something else that is better left unsaid.
So what really ails the LTO?
Is it simply plain and simple ingrained corruption?
One indication is the presence and need to have fixers to make it easier to transact business with the agency.
And the agency is still full of fixers.
It could also be the work culture that exists within the agency that needs to be changed.
To be fair to the many Assistant Secretaries that headed the agency, a lot of them did in fact start a reform process but left not being able to complete what they started.
Jay Tugade is therefore, just following the footsteps of many of his predecessors. We all know, the LTO is principal government agency that administers all laws pertaining to the operation of land vehicles.
From licensing of drivers, car registration, repair shops and many more. And LTO has something to do about it. LTO’s authority is therefore quite extensive.
My long years of government service allowed me to interact closely with the LTO. The first was when I was detailed to the DOTr after coming back from my traffic and transport engineering studies and was assigned by the Secretary who was then a Minister to supervise the LTO as one of the agencies assigned to me as a special assistant to the Secretary.
The second was when I headed the Highway Patrol of the PNP and the third was when I handled the traffic of the National Capital Region.
Like the police where I used to belong to, the LTO also needs a change in work culture.
There seems to be some elements within the LTO who are not so enthusiastic to change or what we call reform.
I experienced this when we attempted to introduce the benefits of computers in the agency when computerization was just starting.
The LTO is now, of course, much more computerized but that is not enough.
A lot more needs to be done.
It is hard to pinpoint a single reason for LTO’s struggles.
This is perhaps what makes identifying what should be done to reform the agency harder.
In a case like this, the DOTr and LTO leadership should undertake a complete overhaul of the current staffing pattern to make it more responsive to the increasing demand of motorization and undertake a complete retraining program to change its corporate values.
All this, however, will be impossible to achieve if the DOTr and LTO do not see each other eye to eye.