Moving Forward with the Bangsamoro


– Strengthening Capacity for Development Planning and Management –
Urooj MALIK, Ph.D.*
(23 November 2013)

I. Introduction

The signing of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro has 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, 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, we 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.  Equally, it is 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 note presents some initial thoughts and ideas on the challenges faced by the Bangsamoro in respect of governance and capacity building as related to development policy, planning and management.  It summarizes certain proposed measures and initiatives to help secure that resources made available for the economic and social development of the Bangsamoro are used in the most effective and efficient manner.


II.  The Context

A common criticism by many is that the resources earlier provided to the authorities after the signing of the 1996 peace agreement have been largely wasted.   Skeptics argue that the individuals and institutions mandated to govern the development efforts at the time were lacking in skills and capacity, and also did not have appropriate checks and balances in the governance regime.   There is, therefore, the pressing need to avoid such a situation from happening again.

The recent signing of the Framework Agreement between the MILF and the GPH has indeed provided an opportunity for the Bangsamoro to start on a clean slate and set in motion a process of building skills and strengthening capacities, as well as setting in place appropriate governance structure, systems and mechanisms that will be responsive to the Bangsamoro development framework.  It is also an opportunity to show to the development community that this time around the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and its constituents are serious about ensuring accountable, transparent and participatory use of scarce development resources.  This is critical as the promised aid resources from key aid agencies and other partners are made available by them to eventually form part of the so-called “Multi-donor Mindanao Trust Fund”, hopefully to be co-managed by the World Bank and the Bangsamoro.


III.  Proposed Preliminary Measures and Initiatives

A. Supporting the Leadership and Establishing a Governance Structure

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.

(i) Perceptions on the Record to-date in Development Policy and Planning:  

Hitherto, the role played by the Bangsamoro Development Authority (BDA) has been perceived to be rather weak.  This may be on account of several reasons such as, capacity constraints or lack of appropriate engagement by development partners.  There is also the Bangsamoro Management and Leadership Institute (BMLI) that has been recently established and as such still at a nascent stage of development.  Consequently, the Bangsamoro need to think about a proper structure for a organization which can adequately respond to the current and emerging development needs of the region and also coordinate its work with national agencies such the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) and other key oversight agencies.

(ii) Governance Structure – Learning from Good Practices in Asian Region:

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 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 (called the “Rectangular Strategy”), prepares policy briefs for the PM, as well as an annual economic report.  SNEC’s organization includes the posts of Permanent Vice Chairman, a Secretary General and Deputy Secretaries General. SNEC’s work is conducted by four specialist divisions – administration, governance, economic policy, and social policy each headed by a Director with the rank equivalent to Director General.  

(iii) Provision of Advisory Support for the Leadership:

A second important facet of a development agency has also to do with strong leadership at the helm, which is 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 its management, and help capacitate them in leading effectively from the behind.  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 MILF leadership and possess the diplomatic skills to act as the “honest broker” between the parties concerned.  Moreover, the managers made in-charge of the units must possess the right skills mix for making the right policy choices and their implications on sector performance and the delivery of development targets.

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 Development 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 RGC and aid agencies on their investment support programs, and help in coordination work across sector line agencies.

The Chief Development Adviser was also responsible for organizing study tours to various Asian countries for officials of agencies.  He was also tasked to help set up an eminent persons group who were prominent personalities from selected Asian nations and tasked to periodically visit the agencies to share ideas on various paradigms of and approaches to development.   In the context 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 investment in to the Bangsamoro.

(iv)  Public vs. Private Investment:

A third element requiring advisory assistance to keep in mind at this stage of 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.

However, as more and more confidence builds up among private sector parties and as peace finally returns to Muslim Mindanao with improved law and order situation, it is quite likely that bigger and longer-term private investment will also flow into the Bangsamoro land. 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 Bangsamoro should already start planning for this eventuality by considering a governance structure for the policy oversight agency that will also take into account the potential private investment into the region.  The Bangsomoro could benefit from having advisory assistance to support the promotion of private investment.


B. Building Capacity and Strengthening Institutions   

Considering the current weaknesses in development policy and planning in ARMM, it will be important to request for technical assistance from aid agencies for implementing key policy and planning functions.

(i)                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.

(ii)              Choosing the Right Officials for Training: 

The Bangsamoro would also need to decide whether they wish to maintain the BDA or BMLI (or a combination of the two) as the focal point and to strengthen it, or if considered appropriate to change its structure/leadership with the aim to respond more effectively to changed circumstances in ARMM, or to establish a new agency in-charge of development policy and planning.   In either case, the need for long-term capacity building needs to be given paramount importance.  In this context, it is important to consider who will get the 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 development business of the region once the New Autonomous Political Entity sets out to manage the affairs of Muslim Mindanao.

(iii)            Sequencing the Training Activities:

As a start, the selected group shall undergo specific training can begin by working with the advisers who should come on board at the earliest and, eventually as more substantive amount of technical assistance grants from external sources kicks in, they can then undergo more formal training based on carefully crafted training modules on development policy, planning and management. In the case of the Cambodian SNEC, initially the training program started the same way wherein selected individuals were appointed as research assistants and were assigned to advisers for hands-on training and research on pertinent economic and social development themes.

(iv)             Consideration for Special Studies on Topical Themes:

Special studies could also be commissioned on topical themes and issues as part of the long-term training exercises.  These may include, among others, topic such as, Islamic education policy, technical and vocational education, labor and employment laws, harnessing the agri-business potential, climate change issues effecting Muslim Mindanao, sources for revenue mobilization, public-private partnerships, and Islamic finance.


IV.          Concluding Thoughts

The signing of the Framework Agreement marks the beginning of a long journey for bringing about genuine peace in Muslim Mindanao.  However, for peace to be sustainable, steps would need to taken in parallel with the peace process for promoting inclusive growth and equitable development.   And for this to occur, Muslim Mindanao would need to have well-trained cadre of officials and institutions of accountability so as to ensure that the resources deployed for public and private investment are used in an effective, efficient and transparent manner.   The ideas and thoughts elucidated in this note with regard to development management are steps in that direction.   It is hoped that the note will offer an opportunity for raising awareness of key challenges and stimulate discussion for further crystallization of ideas with the MILF leadership and officials concerned, as we move forward in the journey for bringing lasting peace and development for the Bangsamoro people.



* Dr. Urooj Malik is chairman and ceo of Hineleban Foundation Inc., a social enterprise working for sustainable peace, ecosystem management and rural development in Mindanao.  He is a former director of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), where his career spanned over 25 years in various capacities.  In 2010, Dr. Malik voluntarily opted to take early retirement from the ADB with the aim to focus on the development of Mindanao.  He can be reached at:  [email protected]