Column for Manila Standard. All rights reserved by author/No alterations please. MS01-50, 7-28-01 [for publication on 7-30-2001]
BUTCH AFRICA, GOVERNMENT SERVICE AWARDEE
by Mahar Mangahas
Four years after creating a Government Service Award, to publicly acclaim those who serve with distinction in any branch or constitutional body of government, at the national or local level, the Ateneo de Manila University has finally named its first awardee: Mr. Tomas ‘Butch’ Africa, statistician.
Butch Africa was educated, not at the Ateneo as some might assume, but at San Beda for elementary and high school, U.P. for his bachelor’s in statistics, the Institute of Social Studies (Netherlands) for studies in development planning and national accounting, and George Washington University for a master’s in social economic statistics.
Butch started government service in NEDA in 1973, three years after finishing at UP. At NEDA, he co-wrote the 1977 Manual on the Philippine System of National Accounts (which has not yet been updated ever since! — MM). In 1987-89, as consultant of the Senate Committee on Economic Affairs, he worked on bills dealing with statistical planning.
Here are quotations from the Ateneo citation: “In 1989, Tomas Africa was named Administrator of the National Statistics Office and the ex-officio Civil Registrar. . . . [He] did not like what he saw. Instead of accepting things as they were, he worked very hard to make the employees proud of their jobs. He made sure that the results of their surveys were published in newspapers; he thanked his staff publicly through interviews. He instituted different awards as signs of recognition of the employees’ achievements. Gradually, these strategies led to more creativity and resourcefulness. . . .[He] introduced a series of innovations that would greatly improve the running of the office as well as the condition of its first Five-Year Development Plan. It was the first time that the organization, with the active participation of middle management, visualized its role in society and decided how it would play that role. This development plan also put information technology in the forefront. . . Tomas Africa planned and carried out the continued retooling and networking of the office in mainframe, microcomputer and other office automation techonology. . . In 1990, the Philippines became the first middle-sized country to process census results entirely through micro-computers. In 1995, the office Quick Count began monitoring the progress of nationwide census operations through real time updates. By 2000, the office was using Intelligent Character Reader technology in processing census returns. The NSO also developed the Civil Registration Information System, a software that would be distributed for free to municipalities and cities. . .Despite limited government funding, the NSO embarked on a Civil Registration System-Information Technology Project aimed to provide a more efficient delivery of services and put an end to proliferation of fraudulent documents. Other innovations: the NSO Website and Electronic Bulletin Board, the Philippine Statistics Quiz (a nationwide collegiate contest), the Minimum Basic Needs-Community Based Information System. In 1998, the NSO became the first national agency to win the Philippine Quality Award for Commitment, largely because of Tomas Africa’s emphasis on quality management as a tool for improving the processing of statistical data as well as the general operations of the organization. As a manager, Tomas Africa has always believed that the employee’s welfare must come first. He pushed for the regularization of over 600 casual employees, some of whom had been with the office for more than 12 years. Despite opposition from top management, he signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the NSO Union of Statistics Employees in 1989. . . [He] encouraged local civil registrars to form local associations, regional federations, and a national organization. He also initiated moves towards strengthening field offices, giving greater freedom to Regional Directors in managing their regions’ particular concerns and creating stronger links with local government units. Throughout all this, Africa led by example, not missing a single day of work, and being accessible, as much as possible, to employees for consultations and discussions. He visited almost all the provinces in the Philippines, holding dialogues with local office heads and well as the rank and file. He institutionalized the continuous improvement of office systems and procedures on human resources, as well as financial and administrative matters, with active employee participation. He also instituted the policy of opening NSO offices from seven in the morning to seven in the evening, to guarantee prompt and efficient service to clients from all walks of life.
And so, “for inspiring creativity and volunteerism, for exemplifying what a civil servant should be — one who performs his day to day duties with fidelity and integrity — thus providing a living model of an honest public servant, for embodying the Benedictine principle of ‘work and pray’ at its best, the Ateneo de Manila University is proud to confer its first GOVERNMENT SERVICE AWARD on Tomas P. Africa.”
Butch Africa is my colleague in the Philippine Statistical System, which includes private as well as public statistics. I join in the Ateneo’s salute to him.