Everyone’s busy looking at what the New Year has in store for him or her. It’s that time of the year that we start setting targets or objectives, what many call a “resolution.” A New Year is also a good time for re-assessment. Or if the re-assessment has already taken place before the end of the last year, then the New Year should have new plans based on the assessment. As innovators (and all of us Filipinos should be innovators, we ought to take note that time is running out for us not to be left behind significantly by our neighbors), we should be closely looking at what we could do. It doesn’t matter whether one is an ordinary citizen, celebrity or a public official. Anyone could actually contribute in a little way, even just taking part actively in public discussions on current issues, most especially on efforts to reform the current governance mechanisms in the country. Much remains to be done especially at the national level, but at the local level, as we have always maintained here in the foundation, something could “immediately” be done. What is most difficult most often is the start then the next difficult part is “how to sustain it.”
Working with Local Governments
Foremost in any discussion on development today is how to sustain the country’s “economic growth.” For years, we have seen “hit and miss” in all the administrations after Marcos. Each of our former Presidents (if we are to be as much possible objective) had some good or legacy that were left behind, and this explains why at the height of each leadership, the country experienced some level of growth. The problem however is that most of the initiatives by each leader, were dependent entirely on their tenure (not discounting self-interest of course) and for the best part were always discontinued or revised by their successor. Continuity was always our dilemma, not to mention that the purview had been at best, medium term. We have yet to really understand the advantage of having strong institutions, of a state that can come up with policies and programs that will be good for all and not only for a few.
As it has always been, some groups will have their way and therefore gain for a time, and revert to lackluster returns after, if at all there is any. Of course, some are smarter that regardless who is in power, remains profitable. What is not considered by many is, if the country as a whole develops, those who are rich will be rich in a rich or at least in a richer country. That is without doubt better than being rich in a poor country. Apart from paling in comparison with the rich in other countries, security will always be a problem as many would be left behind and thus there’ll always be incentive for shortcuts to success and or fortune, for illegal activities. There can be so much, so many options available to improve governance, and one is to maximize what we have now.
Many believe, we are underdeveloped because of our culture. Our culture reflects lack of unity and is the reason why we don’t behave, we don’t follow rules and regulations or averse of standards. We can actually see this as an advantage, or at least as a given. What we have right now is diversity and diversity can be seen, in fact “should” be seen as richness in culture. Culture in the first place is different from behavior (wrote a piece briefly explaining this http://bit.ly/106SCzm), and to me, our culture is something we could be proud of and in fact is an advantage.
This richness is best seen in our local governments, in our local communities. And the work of governance has yet to come full circle where the national is able to work with the local effectively. The point is, the advantage of a rich culture, of the rich diversity in our people, has yet to be maximized and governance is circumscribed as the national perspective is supposedly broad but is (under current circumstances) in fact limited by whoever is running the government. The same is true for our national government agencies; because of the thinking that they know better, even if department heads, especially the policy makers don’t have the adequate background on what happens on the ground, (in the first place, precisely because of diversity in the country, what one knows on one particular locality will most likely be different with the other) many programs fail to adequately address what is really needed by the people. If at the very least, national policies and programs are formulated and implemented in close coordination and collaboration with the local governments, maximizing the resources both at the national and local level, then we could expect that what is really needed at the local level could be effectively addressed.
Key Issues or Areas that Local Governance Could Be Key
Many of the important issues we face today could very well be addressed with the local governments working hand-in-hand with the national. For our purpose now, we can at least list 3, and these are 1, agriculture, 2, health, and 3, energy; 3 issues which could have been adequately addressed if the devolution of powers provided by law has been religiously and effectively implemented by the government. There had been so many studies, most even were policy studies that explains why agriculture is still a weak sector in the country even if we are supposedly an agricultural country.
Agriculture has yet to be a proftable industry not because we don’t produce enough, but mainly because its real potential has yet to be realized. So many studies were already undertaken thru the years, by local and international experts assessing the state of agriculture in the country (the most recent that i recall is the one by JICA). Interestingly, many of these researches concluded that we are not producing enough, hence requires us to import even our staple food, rice, from our neighbors. If we are to look at official statistics by national government agencies, even of international organizations, we’ll find out that we are in fact producing enough, and even more than enough in the case of livestock (we did a study for a serious candidate for the senate last elections who unfortunately didn’t make it). The problem is more of access than produce. Access that is defined by farm to market roads, post-harvest facilities and a network for distribution, even technology for processng and packaging. We need not belabor what’s needed for all these to be available and possible. If we ask the simple question of how best we can make all these happen, then you can imagine why a good partnership between the national and local governments, including between local governments could spell all the difference. Just by way of a thought, the national government can set the standards, provide the fundamentals, especially technical assistance, the broad infrastructure, and the local governments to provide the right environment for production, processing, packaging and even marketing.
Health, unknown to many, is the only devolved service that is supported by its national government agency (at least as how it has been in the not so recent studies and assessments). It is also a sector where the impact of decentralization is shown to have succeeded, at least in those areas where it received serious attention by local officials. Health is best addressed at the local level simply because it is a service that requires details only a local approach could provide. A local approach is the only effective way at getting details of socio-economic profile of each barangay and even the industries that are present and can be supported by local labor. Those details will enable both local and national governments to exactly determine how many and how much is needed for say, vaccination, birth and child support and nutrition. Budgets will therefore be more precise as the needed information will be available. Waste could be avoided, and transparency could be easily realized. Even running of hospitals has been seen to be possible with and by local governments, with provinces specifically. We can learn from those that managed to both in the north and the south of the country.
Energy is a sector that has yet to see the real significance of local governments. Local governments are not only useful for locating power generators and for allowing distribution networks to be constructed. Local governments actually have corporate powers that allows it to contribute to energy development and even generation and distribution. Again, this requires substantial information and understanding, and would be possible only with a serious local official and support of the national government. Technology is already there, and the resources needed are around and existing local activities could support it. At the very least, local governments can produce the energy it needs to run basic appliances and cut down its traditional energy requirements by a significant part. Again, this would mean savings that would allow funds to be used to other needs like disaster preparedness.
The bottomline here is, good governance is realized best when local governments are supported and allowed to realized its full potential and therefore work collaboratively with the national government. It should not be seen as a competitor for national resources, of national budget and funding. If local governments are able to perform the basic services expected of government, the national level can concentrate on real national concerns, managing the economy (fiscal and monetary policies), ensuring national security, and putting the best face to what is now a closer, more competitive global community. Then again, we have to learn how to finally make sense of what has always been referred to as the “information” age (and therefore learn how to make real good use of information) and look at the future (long-term) and therefore establish, if not strengthen public institutions. Then we could’ve realized that after all, “good governance is local governance.”