Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Decentralization 1: It's Still More Government

I am no fan of so-called "decentralization" or "devolution" from national to local government units (LGUs). Both in principle and practice. Whether centralization or decentralization, it's the same bottom lineof MORE government and bureaucracies. The only difference is that in centralization, it's the national politicians and bureaucrats who make and implement the rules, while in decentralization, it's the local politicians and bureaucrats who do.

Below is from a friend, also from UP. He was a 3-termer councilor in a town in Pampanga, now a municipal administrator. He's got lots of insights on local govt. administration, governance, taxation, etc. For instance, he noted the wastage of our taxes on barangay leaders. The barangay chairman in pangasinan where our farm is located also narrated to me that many of his fellow brgy chairmen really enjoy being treated to red-lights entertainment (DOM style) when they go out for seminars in the cities:
Nonoy, I've been reading the essays you've been sending me. Kaya lang I don't have the time to comment on them dahil I'm loaded with a lot of work and I'm usually preoccupied with meetings, trainings and workshops.

I feel mas marami akong trabaho ngayon compared to when I was in the legislature. As municipal administrator, I'm the one who practically runs our LGU. Oh boy, it's a stressful job.

And I've been the object of relentless attacks by people who're getting hurt by the reforms and changes that I've been introducing. I have received numerous hate mails through SMS and the regular postal service. Nasty notes have been pasted on to my windshield and other stuffs lke that. It's the price I continue to pay because I got rid of excess fat and overlapping of functions,because I said "Enough of patronage hiring!" Can you blame me then if I move around with my favorite hand gun?

It is seldom noticed, Nonoy, na malaki ang waste of taxpayers' money sa mga local governments. Halimbawa, taun-taon na lang ang daming seminars and workshops ang nilulunsad ng DILG sa buong kapuluan. Ang funding ng mga iyan ay nanggagaling sa general fund ng mga municipio. Yet magtataka ka na sa kabila ng mga paulit-ulit na trainings ay di pa rin marunong bumalangkas ng badyet ang mga barangay, maging ang mga bayan. Eh paano sa halip na mag-aral ang mga delegado, they find it more convenient to visit a red light district, a local casino or some other places of amusement. Pag-usapan na lang natin ito when we get to sip a bottle of wine- - pag medyo maluwag-luwag ang sked natin.


Another friend, Bruce, made this reaction to Jun's comments:
What more proof do you need that you are doing something? Those politicians and bureaucrats that are HATED are the ones that are doing something. Those that are loved by everyone, or at least those that do not generate strong feelings, are not doing squat.

Enough of this talk of "unity" or trying to get along. Politics is about getting things done. Winners and losers. Pissing off the criminals and the corrupt officials and making great enemies. If you are a politician without great enemies, you are a politician who has done nothing of note.

Reagan, Thatcher, Bush 43 are all hated because they all had tremendous impact upon people and the world. People don't hate Pres. Jerry Ford because he did little (and for good reason - Watergate).

Will GMA be hated or will she be inconsequential?

By the way, only with strong enemies will you have strong supporters. Again, witness Reagan and Thatcher. By his enemies, you can judge him. I don't trust anyone who is not hated by the Marcoses and the Estradas.

Below is a personal testimony by an American of his experience in just renewing his car's registration in Fairfax, Virginia, can beastounding for some guys in poorer countries who thought that American bureaucracy is among the most efficient and least interventionist inthe world.

Car registration in the Philippines is not decentralized or devolved to LGUs. It's done by a national bureaucracy called the Land Transportation Office (LTO). The process is not as bureaucratic as the one in Virginia as narrated by the author, Mr. Daniel Mitchell. One difference here is that there's a regulation that amounts to a new tax. All vehicles, before they can be registered annually, have to go through a "smoke emission test" and show that it "passes". The fee for this is P300 (US$6.7 at P45/$ exchange rate). Even if your car is newly-purchased, you still have to go through this test and pay the fee. "Failure" rate in this test is very very small, but the government is still doing it anyway.

The fangs of LGU bureaucracy in the Philippines can be felt inbusiness registration, not in car registration. Read this testimony here, http://www.cato.%20org/pub_display.%20php?pub_id=,
and understand why the author considers himself alibertarian.

Below is a portion of his personal testimony

Great Moments in Local Government
by Daniel J. Mitchell

I became a libertarian in high school and college thanks to Ronald Reagan's eloquent commentary against big government. I remain a libertarian because of Virginia's Department of Motor Vehicles.

... I went online to find out about renewing the registration, and was horrified to discover that I had to make a visit to DMV because my registration had lapsed... I woke up early so that I could avoid a three-hour line at the DMV office and managed to see someone after a wait of just 15 minutes. But when I attempted to register, I was told that Fairfax County had placed a hold on my registration because of unpaid taxes. I would like to claim that I was being a principled tax protester, but I meekly pay my car leastwhen I'm aware that a bill is due. I don't know whether to blame the Post Office or the vehicle bureaucracy, but there are no letters from Fairfax County in my inbox.

... there is no coordination between Fairfax County and the state government. So I had to surrender my spot at the counter and go look at a sign with numbers for various local tax offices. I called Fairfax County's automated system, filled with naive thoughts about making an automated payment and then taking care of my registration.

I was surprised to learn that Fairfax County thinks I have four cars. Unfortunately, the system does not tell you the cars you ostensibly own, or which car has the unpaid tax bill. But the amount was not very large, so I was willing to pay it - even if it was for a car I didn't own. Like any sensible person, my top goal was to avoid having to make a repeat visit to the DMV.... I opted out of the automated system and eventually got to speak to live bureaucrat. For reasons that I will never understand, though,the bureaucrats can only process payments if you have a Discover card.

... I will now have to visit the Fairfax County tax office and then make a secondvisit to the DMV. And if that is all that I have to do, I willconsider myself lucky. But there is a silver lining to this dark cloud. I now am fullyre-energized in my disdain for government....


A friend asked me why I don't agree with decentralization, and If I believe there is still a need to elect local government officials. I have clearly stated from the paper above, devolution or decentralization just retains big government. There was also nothing that I mentionioned there that I am in favor of a monolithic central or national government.

I still believe there is a role for LGUs, particularly in maintaining peace and order. I believe that there should be more barangay tanods and less policemen. I've seen the effectivity of barangay tanods in maintaining peace and order in many barangays. The tanods know most if not all residents in their barangay. The policemen, their central command coming from the national government, are often lazy, busy mostly in "anti-terrorism" campaigns and in defending the President from street demonstrators.

There should still be provincial governors, city/municipal mayors, and barangay chairmen, and their respective coteries of councilors. But the powers of these LGUs should be limited, particularly on imposing many regulations and restrictions in business and entrepreneurship. Just observe how the city government of Makati behaves for instance.

You want to rent a space in a building for your office. Before you can start anything, get barangay clearance, location clearance, MACEA clearance, then various permits in city hall (fire dept. permit, electrical permit, mechanical permit, sanitary permit, pay real property tax, etc.) before the mayor's business permit can be granted.

Once you have the business permit, you need "renovation permit" before you touch anything on the space on that building, and I heard another MACEA permit. And before you bring your office furnitures and supplies, you need a "permit to occupy" again from city hall. I am not a contractor or building/interior designer, so I don't have the details of various permits and regulations required by the local government bureaucracies.

Is this a desirable set up of "decentralized government"?
No way man. My concept of "decentralized" government is minimal government.
Very little if not zero government role in business regulation.
Regulate criminals and robbers and rapists, Yes.
But regulate, even over-regulate, entrepreneurs, No.

And if we think changing this bureaucratic procedures in local governments is easy, think twice. Or think a hundred times. Once LGUs or any other government entity have tasted power, especially the power to regulate other people's lives, the hunger for more power can only increase, not decrease. The power to tinker with even minute details of our lives, like how much we can keep from our monthly income, how much one can renovate his house and how soon he can start it, makes bureaucrats desire for more power.

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