Reversing devolution

Published by rudy Date posted on January 10, 2011

The country’s experience with devolution shows the limitation of big ideas turned into laws without adequate studies of how things will work on the ground. It was popular for some political leaders to bash Imperial Manila and demand that more powers be devolved to local governments. It was argued that local governments know what people need best and is the face of government at the grassroots.

The arguments sounded reasonable so that a law was passed devolving the delivery of a lot of government services to local governments. A system of sharing national funds was devised. Known as the IRA or internal revenue allotments, it can be as much as 90 percent of a local government’s budget. There are other sources of local government funds like property and business taxes but the efficiency of the LGU in collecting these can be spotty.

It is a common complaint of LGUs that they don’t have enough funds to carry on the functions devolved by the National Government to them. While that is true in a number of instances, the problems however, are more than funds availability. Many LGUs simply do not have the trained personnel with the capacity to carry out the devolved functions. There should have been a more systematic devolution process where capacity building is on top of the agenda before actual devolution.

Thus, just to cite an example, when regulation of tourism services such as hotels were devolved from the Department of Tourism to individual local government units, problems arose. First of all, few LGUs knew how to properly classify tourism establishments. Then, there is no uniformity of standards across the nation. A hotel which merits a five star rating in Bohol will probably merit a two star in Manila and no star internationally.

This is bad for satisfying tourist expectations as I have experienced. I remember booking a supposedly five star resort in Bohol some years ago which is really just two star at best but I paid five star rates. This was why the new tourism code brought back the regulation of tourism establishments to the Department of Tourism. It really is the only way to go for now.

In many cases, devolution also caused problems in service delivery. This is more common with public hospitals. Services deteriorated with devolution and as a result, patients are getting less quality services if they get any at all after hospitals are turned over to LGUs. Some LGUs complain they did not get enough money to run those hospitals.

It is thus good news to learn that the National Government is considering reversing devolution in cases where it seems the logical thing to do. The national government is open to renationalizing the delivery of extension services — like agriculture extension services — that were devolved to local government units (LGUs) under the Local Government Code (LGC) in order to improve the delivery of basic services in the country, a NEDA official recently told reporters.

According to Business Mirror, Myrna Clara Asuncion, NEDA National Planning and Policy Staff director, told reporters this is one of the measures being studied by the government to not only improve the delivery of extension services but also meet various national targets. That certainly makes sense. Why stick to a strategy that had been proven deficient in delivering the services needed by our people?

“It [renationalization] is one of the many strategies, it is an option. It is possible to also have a national program. If you want to implement a program for the next six years, legislation is difficult. So it could go through administrative reforms,” Asuncion said on the sidelines of a regional consultation in Laguna last week.

Extension services were devolved through the 1991 Local Government Code. These include the distribution of seeds and provision of training for farmers, social services like the maintenance of day-care facilities and health centers, provision of basic-education services, secondary and tertiary health-care services, and social-forestry programs and creating tree parks, among others.

“[We want to see an] improvement in the [delivery of] services whether it’s centralized or decentralized. The bottom line is improve the provision of extension services,” said Sheila Marie Encabo, Neda Agriculture staff officer in charge director.

I don’t think this means the devolution experiment is a failure. It only means we just have to make sure that the LGU will be able to carry out the functions expected with the devolution. LGU officials may require training as well as budgetary assistance in carrying out their functions. They cannot just be thrown to the deep end and wait for them to sink or swim.

Indeed, there are many LGUs that are now more than capable of delivering devolved services. But these are often the bigger cities that are not almost totally dependent on IRA for their budgets.

Maybe, what needs to be reviewed is how the IRA is divided among LGUs. Often enough, we see rich cities and municipalities who have money going out of their ears getting fairly large IRAs. Some rich barangays in Makati, for instance, are running out of public projects to spend their share of the IRA on.

Simply basing IRA share on income tax paid in a jurisdiction may not be the best way of doing it. A system of rewarding less endowed LGUs that has shown notable capability in service delivery ought to be put in place. The thing is, those who have much shouldn’t have too much and those who have little, shouldn’t have too little.

Devolution is a good idea but its implementation cannot be rushed. Devolution must be done intelligently for it to work for the best interests of the people. What Neda is thinking of doing now should have been thought of and done a long time ago.

Police survey

The PNP announced they will conduct a survey to find out how the people feel about them.

I know for sure that this is a dumb idea. Why should we spend what little money we have in the Treasury to find out what we already know? The people distrust the police because many are criminals in uniform. They only need to check the police blotter, assuming they record crimes committed by police officers.

Police officers rape suspects being held right in the integrity office at headquarters; call the SWAT and threaten private security guards implementing rules in a commercial center; try to salvage “assets” who can link them to crime; lead crime syndicates involved in extortion, kidnapping, carnapping and other serious crimes.

What is Usec Rico Puno doing? Isn’t he P-Noy’s go-to-guy for police matters? What is being done about deteriorating discipline in police ranks? They don’t need to spend money on a survey to answer those questions.

Mar Roxas

The plan of P-Noy to use Mar Roxas to help him get things done is good news. Working as trouble shooter for P-Noy would be nice but that would not maximize utilization of Mar’s vast organizational talents. Mar could put some order in the Palace’s front office, something sorely lacking these days at the hands of the Student Council interns whose performance thus far can be charitably described as OJT quality.

Mar is also a strategic thinker, no doubt a skill honed during his days as an investment banker. That’s another thing the Palace badly needs too. I don’t think P-Noy should wait until May before he starts to benefit from the management skills of Mar. It should be easy enough to give Mar functions or special assignments that can be performed without a formal appointment.

Letting Mar work on the NAIA 3 problem, for instance, would most likely result in an earlier resolution of the case. Letting Mar help Ping de Jesus renegotiate the onerous contracts at NorthRail and MRT, which both require an investment banker’s skills, could prove to be productive too. Let us not waste more time. P-Noy should harness Mar right now. –Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star)

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