Targeting LGU Capacity

Dindo Manhit, Stratbase-ADRi President

The Local Government Code (LGC) of 1991 was created with the objective of allowing territorial and political subdivisions of the State to enjoy genuine and meaningful local autonomy to enable them to attain their fullest development as self-reliant communities and make them more effective partners in the attainment of national goals and good governance. However, a quarter century since the law was passed, complete devolution of identified responsibilities has not yet been fully accomplished, while some of those that have been are not functioning optimally.

This is not to say that there have not been efforts to make decentralization work. Most recently, the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), under the leadership of newly minted Secretary Senen Sarmiento introduced a system of innovation that seeks gauge the performance of local government units (LGUs). The LGU Scorecard otherwise known as Local TARGET (Transcending Accountable and Responsive Governance through Empowerment and Teamwork) aims to document baseline data for governance and development aligned with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (UN-SDGs) for 2016-2030. Moreover, Sec. Sarmiento said that the accomplished LGU Scorecard will be useful to the LGUs since it will help them meet future performance-oriented standards of the Seal of Good Local Governance (SGLG) and the grant of Performance Challenge Fund (PCF). With the national and local elections just a few short weeks away, the Scorecard could also help newly-elected officials, particularly in developing their executive agenda and concretizing their priorities for the first 100 days.

The Scorecard focuses on eight (8) key areas where LGUs can contribute directly to the SDG. These are: 1) accountable and transparent LGUs; 2) clean water, energy and sanitation for all; 3) inclusive and equitable education; 4) good health and well-being; 5) disaster resilient community; 6) business and investment promotion; 7) peaceful, orderly and just community; and, 8) clean and livable environment.

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Residents in Valenzuela City consulting with the health care workers in Barangay Paso de Blas Health Center. (Source: http://www.valenzuela.gov.ph/index.php/article/news/750)

Many of these key areas targeted by DILG’s scorecard were discussed in depth by Dr. Francisco Magno in his chapter entitled “Decentralization Policy Reform Agenda for Local Development” in ADRi’s book, Thinking Beyond Politics.

In his discussion of devolved environmental functions, Dr. Magno says that under the LGC, LGUs, are assigned to perform various functions devolved from the DENR such as enforcing forestry laws limited to community-based projects, pollution control law, small-scale mining law, and other laws on the protection of the environment. Provincial governments, on the other hand, can establish mini-hydroelectric projects for local purposes, while municipalities are tasked to implement community-based forestry projects that include integrated social forestry programs and manage solid waste disposal systems.

Various studies, however, point to serious problems and gaps in the devolution of such functions. According Dr. Magno, the national government agencies still maintain significant control over the supposedly devolved services resulting in confusion, overlaps, and duplication of functions. Furthermore, human resource challenges have also hampered the effectiveness of LGU’s environmental efforts, since most of the time, specialized knowledge and skills, as well as experience were limited staff in bureaus at the central office.

Dr. Magno also writes about challenges faced by LGUs in their effort to provide health services. Provinces, municipalities all the way to the barangays are mandated: to provide varying degrees of health services that include tertiary health services, hospitals, maternal and child care, and communicable and non-communicable disease control services; and to maintain health centers and day-care centers. Dr. Magno pointed out that the most cited impediment to the effective devolution of the health sector is budget constraint. The impact of resource constraints in health services is deep, There are reports of short supplies of medicines, equipment, and a perceived decline in health care in some cases. Several localized hospitals devolved to LGUs have been renationalized and local health workers complain about low wages and not receiving the commensurate salaries and benefits. As thousands of nurses and other medical personnel leave the country, LGUs are finding it increasingly difficult to retain health workers.

Aside from devolved environmental and health services, Dr. Magno also tackles how decentralization in the Philippines has affected the performance of local government units with regard to finance and revenue administration, expenditure management, regulatory quality, development planning, social services delivery, human resource development, performance management, and coordination and collaboration.

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Former Cotabato City Mayor Muslimin Sema preparing a mahogany seedling at the Dimapatoy watershed in Maguindanao’s Datu Odin Sinsuat town with Brig. Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division looking on. (Source: http://www.philstar.com/nation/2014/08/09/1355675/police-military-maguindanao-locals-plant-3k-trees-peace)

One of Dr. Magno’s recommendations to improve the success of the decentralization and encourage effective and sustainable conditions for good governance includes enhancing the capacities of staff at the LGU level. As it was highlighted in the “partial” decentralization in the environmental sector, LGU staff lack the specialized knowledge and skills necessary to properly deliver devolved functions, while in the health sector, health workers complain about non-commensurate salaries and benefits, while others leave the country in droves.

Currently, there are pending bills in both Houses of Congress that seek to increase the salary of government employees, including those in LGUs. The Salary Standardization Law of 2015 (SSL 4) bills, House Bill 6268 and Senate Bill 2671 seek to increase the compensation of public sector workers by an average of 45% across all salary levels, bringing their compensation closer to their private counterparts to at least 70% of the median of the market for all salary grades. The bills however, did not get bicameral conference approval before the adjournment of Congress, forcing President Aquino to issue Executive Order 201, effectively implementing the first tranche of the proposed SSL4 without Congress’ approval.

If SSL4 is not approved during the 16th Congress, we can only hope that the next batch of legislators sees the value of increasing compensation for public sector workers and the contribution it would make in enhancing human resource capacity at both the Local and National Government levels. The next administration, regardless of political party, should also take full advantage of the DILG’s TARGET LGU Scorecard so that it can hit the ground running, with effective decentralization and good governance firmly in sight.

To read the entirety of “Decentralization Policy Reform Agenda for Local Development”, click here.

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