An introduction to LWUA Administrator Andres F. Ibarra

As a Philippine Airlines flight landed at the Davao International Airport on the morning of February 6 this year, one of its passengers was practically hitting the ground running, like the plane he was in. He had flown to Davao that day as the new head of a government agency.

The passenger was Mr. Andres F. Ibarra.

The day before, he had accepted his appointment by President Aquino as the new, full-pledged Administrator of the Local Water Utilities Administration or LWUA, the government agency mandated to develop and modernize provincial water supply systems.

This was the most opportune moment to step into his new role and gain productive time, he thought. It was like hitting 500 or so birds with just one stone as most of the country's water district general managers and board directors had gathered that day in this big, southern city to attend the Philippine Association of Water District's (PAWD) 35th national convention.

Mr. Ibarra was also hitting the public sector ground straight from the private sector. His appointment came barely two years after he left the country's private banking industry to involve himself in a foundation and help his wife manage a small food business.

He knew he was facing a different set of challenges. "Working in government is hard work," he said. "You have to perform, and perform it with almost everyone's eyes on you." But he accepts this as part of public service where he sees integrity as very important. He emphasized that "We cannot compromise on the basic tenets of transparency, accountability and good governance, once we are in government. We are all accountable to the people, from the President to the utility personnel."

Describing himself as a "solution-seeker" and "problem-solver," the man is undoubtedly a performer. Thirty years of extensive banking experience - his last as Vice President and Head of Corporate and Consumer Banking at the Export and Industry Bank - attests to that.

A few years after getting an economics degree from the Ateneo de Manila University (he is an "Atenista" since high school), he joined Urban Development Bank as marketing assistant, then in 1984 joined the Bank of Boston's Manila Offshore Banking Unit. In 1986 he was sent to attend Bank of  Boston"s Loan Officer Development Program (LODP) in Boston, Massachusetts. Also in the same year, he was assisting in the credit administration of the bank"s Hong Kong branch. He joined the Bank of Commerce (Manila) in 1988 as Assistant Vice President of the Remedial Management Department, later sat as Vice President of the bank"s Credit Department while he chaired the bank"s Loan Review Committee.

In April 1994, Administrator Ibarra rejoined the Bank of Boston's Manila Offshore Branch as Vice President and Senior Credit Officer. For a time, he manned the Asia/Pacific Desk at the bank's head office in Boston, Massachusetts and would later be in Jakarta to assist the bank's Indonesia Branch in preparing credit analysis for Indonesian state and private correspondent banks. From 2002 until his retirement in 2012, he worked as Vice President of the Export and Industry Bank, initially heading the bank's Corporate Banking Group, later its Corporate and Consumer Banking operations.

Some apprehensions visited Administrator Ibarra on making the sudden change from private to public. But friends knowledgeable about LWUA operations assured him that the agency is no different from a bank; it is a lending institution and his expertise was in banking and lending operations.

More importantly, saying yes to be at the helm of a government agency with an underlying mandate of serving the Filipino people then managing an important resource such as water, clenched the decision for him. Even during his Ateneo days, he had entertained the thought of "giving back," in the spirit of being a "man for others."

For someone whose only prior exposure to water supply was simply as a user, he had this to say to some water district managers after a few weeks with LWUA: "I now realize how difficult the task and how important the role that the water districts and LWUA are mandated to play in our nation"s struggle as it wakes up and rises from its economic sleep."

He intends to bring back LWUA to the position it occupied before in the eyes of its clients, and in the eyes of the water supply sector. His confidence is fuelled by his realization that the agency has what he describes as "the expertise and experience."

While the LWUA he took over was lean as a result of the very recent implementation of its rationalization program, already he has tried to assess and tap into that "expertise and experience" through weeks of an agency-wide corporate planning activity.
Meanwhile, Administrator Ibarra had, early on, supplemented LWUA's efforts to recover funds from some of the agency's contentious financial moves in its recent past. As of this writing, he had already given LWUAns positive feedback on those efforts, including the substantial recovery of the agency's investment in the defunct Express Savings Bank and the conversion of past fund availments under the Presidential Social Fund or PSF, into income-generating soft loans.

As such, the new administrator can now expect to accommodate additional credit requests for uncompleted water supply projects or fund water districts' expansion undertakings. That would certainly give substance to his goal of renewing the water supply sector's confidence in LWUA.

But the LWUA that Administrator Ibarra envisions is one in which internal controls are at their strongest. "In the near term," he said, "our Internal Control Office will be strengthened and empowered to institute control mechanisms and procedures."

He realizes that his appointment does not give him the luxury of time but presents him with the necessity of fast action, something ingrained in bankers.

So he began by hitting the ground running, and has wasted no time since then. Smart move, for the awakening Philippine economy is banking on a safe, reliable water supply system ready to quench the thirst of someone who just woke up from a long, deep slumber. (animontano)


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