Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Decentralization 3: Challenges to Local Government

I wrote this last November 1, more than two weeks ago, while I was still in Gummersbach, Germany, attending the 8-days seminar on "Local Government and Civil Society".

When an individual, his/her family and neighbors, their friends and associates, their village, civic, professional, cultural, or sports organizations, are challenged enough to do more social and economic activities for themselves and their communities -- and they are in fact allowed to do so, then we can say that there is greater individual and community responsibility to take care of society.

Consequently, we can say that there is greater individual and community freedom on what they want to do with their own lives, with their own neighborhoods, with their own talents and skills.

Obviously, there are a number of functions that the individuals and their voluntary organizations cannot do such as neutralizing armed robbers and criminals; or ensuring fast and unbiased justice system for people with legal and jurisdictional conflict with each other.

They are also unable to provide quality social and welfare services to people who have no or little capacity for productive work, like the mentally- or physically-handicapped. These functions that the individuals and their associations cannot perform more efficiently are then expected to be done by the government, whether local or national/federal.

This assignment of responsibilities -- of giving individuals and their voluntary associations more role in running their own lives and delegating bigger functions to government bodies when the former cannot do these more efficiently, is called the principle of subsidiarity.

When you look at it closely, this principle would sound “revolutionary” or “subversive” to current and dominant thinking in public administration around the world where most functions are expected to be done by the government – from garbage collection to buses, education, housing, unemployment and social security insurance, health care, etc.

This principle of subsidiarity is among the important concepts that participants in the seminar, “Local Government and Civil Society” at the International Academy for Leadership (IAF) by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Liberty, are leaning towards. I am lucky enough to be one of the 23 participants from different countries – South Africa, Egypt, Palestine, Turkey, Ukraine, Lithuania, Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil, Pakistan, China, Malaysia, Indonesia, and of course the Philippines.

About two-thirds of the participants are city or municipal councilors, or party leaders in local governments while one-third comes from civil society organizations.

The seminar is held here at Theodor Heuss Akademie, Gummersbach, Germany. The small city is 56 kilometers from Cologne, and the akademie is situated on top of a small hill with a good view of the surrounding residential areas below and wide forest plantation around. The seminar started last October 26 and will end on November 1.

Related to subsidiarity are the concepts and practice of decentralization, privatization and competition. I have written a short paper on “Subsidiarity, Decentralization and Privatization” a few months back. These inter-related concepts are intertwined in a bigger concept called New Public Management (NPM). This concept is called “new” because of its advocacy for lean state, lean local government, and more personal and community responsibility.

On another note, I am happy to see a good friend way back from our undergrad days at the University of the Philippines School of Economics (UPSE), Gladys Cruz-Sta. Rita, starting a regular column “Running a Bureaucracy”, also in the www.thelobbyist.biz.

Gladys gave me a thick book that she wrote bearing the same title, and that book is one of my reference materials here in our seminar in Gummersbach because of the wealth of information and practical experiences that Gladys shares with her readers. It is definitely a good reading material for local government administrators.

Nonetheless, government administrators need to ponder on the principle of subsidiarity and its related concepts for them to understand and appreciate the idea of respecting more individual and community responsibilities in running their own lives. And consequently, for government administrators to withraw and remove plenty of taxes, fees and regulations that tend to stifle individual initiatives, innovation and entrepreneurship.

Today, I will share with you my

Experience in Barangay Justice System

Last week, construction workers in a project about 10 meters away from our window woke us up because they worked until 1 am! That was not the first time the same construction work disturbed our sleep. Before I would call up the barangay tanod and security, within minutes the barangay security officers would come to the project site, and the noise will decline if not stop.

This time, I would not stop at a telephone call at the barangay security. So last Wednesday, Nov. 13, I went to the barangay hall of Brgy. San Antonio, Makati City. A lady at the "Lupon Tagapamayapa" (Peace Council) heard my complaint, gave me a paper, I wrote there my official complaint, in a complaint form, paid P100 complaint fee, she attached the receipt to my form, and instructed me to wait for the summon to be served by the barangay captain to me, the complainant, and the respondent, the project engineer of Ironcon Builders and Development Corp. with official address at Intramuros, Manila but the project is in Yakal St., Makati, just across our street.

I received the Summon yesterday morning, November 17, telling us to report to the Barangay hall on November 18, 1pm. Within an hour, I got a phone call from the respondent, he asked me what do we want, I said we only want to sleep soundly at night. I could sense he wanted an informal arrangement with me, I told him that if I talk to him, there will be no witnesses. I want the barangay officials to hear my complaint, he can defend his company, and we will both listen to the judgement and ruling of the barangay peace council. So he put down the phone.

Today November 18, my wife joined me, we also brought our 2 years old daughter as we have no yaya at the moment. 1pm we were at the barangay hall. The lady said the other Lupon official will be late as he has a prior meeting somewhere and he was not consulted of the 1pm meeting. The respondent came about 1:40pm. The lady said we wait for the barangay chairman to possibly hear us but he was busy with many other guests who keep coming.

The 1pm became 2:15pm, but at last, the meeting started. The other Lupon Tagapamayapa official, Joey Angeles, is a respectable-looking man in his 60s perhaps. Upon learning about my complaint, he did not ask me to detail everything as he is very familiar with similar complaints, and he immediately talked to the respondent, the young project engineer.

Joey was very calm yet clear and emphatic in his points. Construction work of whatever nature should start no earlier than 7am, and should end no later than 7pm. Should there be an extension due to delayed deliveries of materials, the barangay should be informed as well as the affected neighbors, and such extension should be no later than 10pm. No exception.

He also pointed out that he does not want to see us again filing the same complaint. Should there be any complaint of similar nature, the barangay will automatically go after them. The worst that can happen to the contractor is the barangay will move to stop the project. Joey cited the case of a medium-high construction project in the barangay. When digging was made, no structural support was made on the neighboring lot. When the soil began to soften in the neighboring lot, the owner complained to the barangay up to the city hall. The verdict: the construction project was stopped, the contractor and project proponent were left hanging with all their plans and investments.

I was very satisfied with the result of the hearing by the Lupon Tagapamayapa. The respondent clearly understood the constraints on their part. They have to abide by the ruling, or risk facing a bigger problem with the barangay, not just with individual respondents from the affected neighbors.

Being an advocate of small and limited government, the role of maintaining peace and order is one function that I believe should be strengthened in government, both national and local government units. Most other functions can be given back to private enterprises and voluntary associations by individuals.

I have personally experienced how barangay justice system is handled and rendered, and I am impressed.

On another note, I also like the responsiveness of the barangay security personnel whenever complaints via phone calls are made, whether it's during regular office hours or unholy hours at midnight and early morning. The security personnel would normally come within 4-5 minutes or less.

See also:

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