“While there has been improved access to maternal health services and a decrease in infant mortality, LGUs still struggle with health service devolution as they can hardly cope with health financing, public health service delivery, health personnel benefits, and lack of technical coordination across the healthcare system”
Local government units led by provincial governors down to city and town mayors and their subordinates would do well to study the analysis of issues and concerns in local governance as well as proposed solutions by a multi-disciplinary task force convened recently by the University of the Philippines Diliman.
The academics agree on one thing: while decentralization under the 1991 Local Government Code or Republic Act 7160 has provided a policy framework to promote strong local leadership, people’s participation, and improved access to financial resources, it has “fallen short” in bringing about democratization, sustained economic development, social justice, human rights protection and gender equality in Local Government Units (LGUs).
Democratization has been stymied by vote-buying and the dominance of political dynasties at the local level. Civil society organizations and the public also have limited actual participation in local development councils, local special bodies, and other local processes.
The decentralization process, while granting autonomy to LGUs, leaves much to be desired, especially in the delivery of services during the COVID-19 pandemic. The result: development across regions has been uneven, and there is a widening gap in terms of average per capita income among provinces, cities, and municipalities.
According to the Bureau of Local Government Finance, the average per capita income of cities in 2020 is about twice as much as provinces, and about 1.5 times bigger than municipalities.
The imbalance is due mainly to the reliance of LGUs on their share in internal revenues as well as their inability to raise funds from local sources.
The devolution of public services from national agencies to LGUs has not gone smoothly.
The mismatch in LGU resource allocation and the cost of devolved functions is particularly glaring in the area of health services.
While there has been improved access to maternal health services and a decrease in infant mortality, LGUs still struggle with health service devolution as they can hardly cope with health financing, public health service delivery, health personnel benefits, and lack of technical coordination across the healthcare system.
Do LGUs really have the capacity to perform devolved functions, specifically the delivery of public services?
For the UP Task Force, it’s a valid question to ask. Devolution could lead to further fragmented and inefficient service delivery because of unclear assignment of functions among the different tiers of government.
Lack of coordination between and among LGUs, national agencies, and their regional offices affects public service delivery and LGU performance.
Hence, LGUs must be able to manage the increase in local funds as mandated by the Mandanas ruling and to allocate and deliver the budget for services efficiently.
Public financial management, training, including local planning, investment programming, resource mobilization, and budgeting are all crucial in achieving administrative efficiency.
More than this, are the funds to be transferred to the LGUs enough to provide all the corresponding services and responsibilities that will be given to the local units?
After all, resources must be commensurate with the services that are going to be devolved. There is also concern that LGUs are becoming too dependent on the national government as they receive about 60 percent of their income from internal revenue taxes.
The privatization of essential services at the local level, such as the provision of water and electricity, for example, could worsen the plight of underserved communities instead of improving their access to basic services.
Political dynasties tend to hinder popular participation and decision-making at the local level. There should be mechanisms to monitor how responsive and accountable local leaders have been while they are in office.
The UP Task Force makes several recommendations to make local governance effective and responsive.
One, resources provided to the LGUs should be commensurate with the services to be devolved and the capacity of the LGUs to sufficiently manage the resources and deliver public services. Ensure representation of the basic sectors and women in local government.
Two, the distribution formula of the shares in national revenues according to the LGC will have to be changed to ensure provinces and municipalities have commensurate resources, and poorer LGUs can get more shares than cities and more economically developed ones.
Three, to fully perform devolved functions, capacity building on effective financial management and resource mobilization, national and local relations, local personnel administration, and local government performance assessment should be undertaken.
Four, improve coordination between different levels of the government, strengthen existing accountability and transparency mechanisms, conduct regular consultations with national government agencies like the Department of Interior and Local Government and other stakeholders such as universities and civil society organizations.
And, five, to enhance people’s participation, LGUs should establish programs for information dissemination and skills training for citizens and communities to raise awareness of basic laws of the country, human rights, and responsibilities of local and national officials especially when it comes to accountability and transparency.
Doable solutions, from where we sit, that could substantially improve local governance if implemented soon enough.