I am posting two related articles below.
(1) Decentralization and Privatization
(posted in "People's Brigada News", a weekend tabloid distributed in southern Metro Manila)
Decentralization and devolution of power from the national or central government to local government units (LGUs) is a favorite topic and advocacy of many LGU leaders and academics. The main reason is that LGU leaders know more about the needs and priorities of their citizens than those in the national government and in Metro Manila.
In October 2008, I went to Gummersbach, Germany, to attend the international seminar on “Local Government and Civil Society”, sponsored by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation (FNF) at the Theodor Heuss Akademie. One of our readings prior to flying to Germany was a paper by a German political scientist, Dr. Monika Ballin, entitled “Local Government and Civil Society”.
Dr. Ballin made a number of definitions and points that I liked very much. Among these are the following:
One, local government is a local, non-national authority, with local responsibility and limited autonomy and is part of the organizational structure of the State. But local government with a high degree of autonomy is always in strong opposition to centralistic political movements and authoritarian structures.
Two, the principle of subsidiarity applies. Responsibilities as much as possible should be done at the lowest level, and only when a responsibility exceeds the capacity of one level that the next higher level should be entrusted.
Three, decentralization and privatization. Responsibilities need to be shifted from the top down, and responsibilities which are not in the national or local sphere have to be privatized. Local authorities must have their own sources of funding to assert their fiscal autonomy.
And Four, civil society is the final stage of a functioning local government. If all means of decentralization, deregulation and privatization have been implemented and citizens have been involved as comprehensively as possible, civil society has emerged. There will be a “Lean State” where State structure exists only where it is absolutely necessary, and the State at any level is not carrying out any task and duty which private businesses or citizens themselves can do for society.
The purpose of political decentralization and devolution is to shift some responsibilities from national to local governments. Unfortunately, for many countries, this did not result in greater individual freedom and citizen empowerment and self-administration, but greater power, regulation and intervention by local governments.
Most LGUs got drunk with the new regulatory powers vested on them by decentralization policy. Thus, while various national government agencies have already imposed a number of taxes and fees for businesses and ordinary citizens, LGUs also created and imposed their own new set of taxes and fees. The main reason given by LGU leaders why they did so is because they also assumed more responsibilities and expenditures that used to be funded by the national government.
What was overlooked by many LGU leaders and their supporters in the intelligentsia, is that the smallest unit to assume responsibility for the citizens is not the barangay or village, a political unit and is part of the entire State apparatus. Rather, it is the individual, the households, as well as their voluntary organizations – like neighborhood associations, sports clubs, civic and rotary clubs, student organizations, labor unions, and so on.
Thus, if the principle of subsidiarity is to be applied strictly, then most responsibilities should fall on private individuals, parents, firms, and citizens’ voluntary organizations, not on either national government or LGUs. This is part of a transition from decentralization to privatization. And by privatization I do not mean the transfer of function from a government unit to a private corporation only. Not exactly. It can be an NGO, a cooperative, a sports and civic club, a church organization, and so on.
There are certain functions that are better handled by the national government, and not by LGUs or by individuals and their voluntary organizations. This includes the promulgation of the rule of law. A law against killing applies whether the crime happened in Luzon or Visayas or Mindanao. The heavy hands of the State should run after criminals, murderers, rapists and kidnappers. Another law, the law against stealing. It should apply whether the theft is the President or a Governor or the poorest of the poor.
Most social welfare functions for special cases are better handled by LGUs. Like public education for the very poor and those with physical and mental disabilities, especially if the parents are poor.
But the bigger challenge to raise responsible individuals who understand their rights and responsibilities as citizens of a particular society, rests with the parents and guardians of minors, the private individuals, not government. We may call this as “privatization of citizen responsibility.”
(2) Civil Society and Politics
A state of civil society is supposed to be higher than a state of democratic governance. And yet we see majority of civil society organizations (CSOs) and non-government organizations (NGOs) that work and behave like adjunct of the government (local, national and multilateral) and political parties. Why has this happened?
Before exploring that question, let us define what “civil society” is. I am taking the liberal, German liberal specifically, definition of the concept, which is rather radical
A German liberal intellectual has defined it as:
“Civil society is the final stage of a functioning local government. If all means of decentralization, deregulation and privatization have been implemented and citizens have been involved as comprehensively as possible, civil society has emerged. There will be a “Lean State” where State structure exists only where it is absolutely necessary, and the State at any level is not carrying out any task and duty which private businesses or citizens themselves can do for society.”
There you are. A state of civil society is a state where individuals know their rights, freedom and responsibilities, as well as the freedom and responsibilities of other people. In so doing, they assume as much responsibilities as possible in managing their own lives, their households, their communities, their school and offices, their church and other voluntary organizations. It is a state of minimal government, both national and local.
See my longer discussion of this as well as the original paper by Dr. Monika Ballin, “From local government to civil society”, http://www.minimalgovernment.net/media/mg_20080821.pdf
A close concept of civil society is the principle of subsidiarity. This principle states that “Responsibilities as much as possible should be done at the lowest level, and only when a responsibility exceeds the capacity of one level that the next higher level should be entrusted.”
Now the lowest level of social, political and economic unit in any society is not the village or barangay. It is the individual. Thus, things that are better done by the individuals, their households, their villages, their sports, church and civic organizations, should be left with them. Only when certain functions they cannot deal with, say neutralizing an organized and armed gang of robbers, drug pushers, carnappers, killers and other criminals, then they pass that function to local government (barangay, city/municipality, or province). When the local governments cannot handle certain functions, then the national government should take over.
An example of functions that cannot be handled efficiently by individuals and their voluntary organization, and the local governments, is maintaining an air force and navy to neutralize sophisticated, highly organized and well-armed criminal groups like sea bandits that sea-jack passenger and cargo boats.
So now, why did I say that so many CSOs behave and act like adjunct of the government and political parties? Because instead of asserting individual freedom and responsibility, instead of correcting repeated government failures, such groups push for even bigger government responsibility, intervention and regulations.
An outstanding example is the party-list system in the Philippines. The Constitution provided for the participation of “marginalized sectors” in the House of Representatives by allotting up to 20 percent of all seats in the House, to be occupied by party-list Congressmen/women. This provision shows that the Constitution itself doubts the sincerity of the legislative district-based Congressmen/women that they will indeed protect the interests of the “marginalized sectors”. Thus, these party-list House seats need to have their representatives there too.
Distrust begets distrust. In the coming May 2010 elections, 300+ party-list groups applied, saying they are from the marginalized sectors. Wow, so many marginalized groups! Does it mean that all past legislations including budgetary appropriation by both district-based and party-list Congressmen/women were all failures in reducing the number of “marginalized sectors”?
Out of the 300+, the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) authorized 187. Repeat, 187 party-list groups and voters will choose only 1.
My point here is that all those party-list groups are CSOs, one way or another. Instead of pressuring existing political parties and party-lists why things remain foul, they all joined the political complexity.
Include also so many CSOs that whenever certain social problems arise, their standard proposal is “more government regulation”, or “more government subsidy”, or “more taxes from the rich”, or “create a new department/bureau”, and so on. And there is the implicit pressure that they hope that the leaders of CSOs will be appointed as heads of those new offices or be appointed to replace other officials.
What happens now to advancing the principle of subsidiarity, of individual freedom and responsibility? Nothing. We are all hooked to supporting the least corrupt politicians among candidates whom average voters suspect were engaged in some dirty arrangements as past government officials.
CSOs should go back to their roots. Their leaders are not politicians, they are not part of political parties, they are not representatives of the corporate world. They are voluntary organizations that thrive only on voluntary support by members and private donors.
See also: Decentralization 4: Local Taxes and Provincial Airports, May 30, 2009