Not an Empowering Government


(Conclusion)

Although calls for greater people participation in governance and development are commonly heard and even “recognized” by the Leonardia administration, in reality, its programs and projects rarely involved, if any at all, the people’s meaningful participation.

BY KARL G. OMBION
SPECIAL REPORT

(Bulatlat.com)

Although calls for greater people participation in governance and development are commonly heard and even “recognized” by the Leonardia administration, in reality, its programs and projects rarely involved, if any at all, the people’s meaningful participation.

All available data show that in most, if not all of the city’s programs and projects, such as health, education, agriculture, fisheries, housing and population, and infrastructure, the people are treated as mere beneficiaries, and have never been allowed to take part in the planning and execution process.

There have been opportunities for the local government to experiment on the participatory approach to development, as in the case of the city’s planning system, flood problem, fishery, housing, transport, vendors, social delinquency and criminality, and even child labor concerns. But instead of drawing the participation of various communities and people’s organizations, the government relies on its executive assistants and staff who not only lack the proper orientation and commitment but also often count their services in terms of the 8 a.m.-5 p.m. official duty and the incentives being offered.

Worse, most of these problems are often viewed mainly as legal and financial in nature, so, if no one complains, or there is no budget allocation, there is no government response – or if there is, at all, it is meager.

Over time, this mindset of top-level officials has been carried down the line, and has become an “accepted culture” in the bureaucracy.

There is a cliché among development managers that any development, be it urban or rural, or both, is only as good as the people who design and implement it.

That means a good development program may end up useless if the implementers did it poorly, or in their individual way, without enabling the people as the main actors and ultimate beneficiaries of development.

On the other hand, a poor development program may deliver surprisingly good results if the actors did it according to their actual grasp and judgment of the changing conditions. But even this will likely be unsustainable.

In a number of evaluations of development projects involving NGOs and LGUs, it had always been a common finding that the chief reason for its failure is the wastage of millions of valuable money and the implementers’ lack of determination, creativity, objectivity and foresight, teamwork, and sense of mission.

In most cases, development programs collapsed because they did not embody the objective needs and aspirations of the people. A major reason for this is that the NGOs and LGUs who managed the program did not enable the people to participate from the planning process to the actual implementation and re-planning.

It cannot be denied though that there are also some government agencies which have well-laid out vision and mission statements, goals, strategies and programs. But because the key people running these institutions have standpoints that do not fit with these goals, or are motivated by self-interests and careerism, and their practices guided by sectarian, patronage and profit politics than commitment to public good – their programs ended in hogwash.

If there were development programs and projects that continue to be implemented despite their negative impact on the people, it is because some LGUs are compelled to pursue these for showcasing, funding purposes, employment and payment of political debts, or use these as milking cows.

Bloated Bureaucracy and Misplaced Priorities

The Leonardia administration bureaucracy is probably one of the most bloated class A city, with misplaced priorities, in the country.

It has 2,652 personnel as of 2008, of which 1,646 are permanent personnel, 1,006 are plantilla casuals or with non-permanent items, and 14 political appointees acting as the Mayor’s executive assistants, with each heading a cluster of divisions.

There are also an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 contractuals and job orders regularly hired for specific services.

In terms of deployment by office, the City Mayor’s Office has a total of 448 employees.

This is followed by City Engineer’s Office (301), Department of Public Services (241), Socio–Economic Services Unit (203), City Health Office (199), City Treasurer’s Office (186), General Services Office (170), Bacolod Traffic Authority Office (146), and SP/Legislative Offices (115);

City Social Services Department (86), Veterinary and Slaughterhouse Office (76), Office of Building Official and City Accountant with 50 each, City Assessor’s Office (43), City Library, City Planning Development Office and Civil Registry with 35 each, City Schools Superintendent (33), Department of Agriculture (31), Bacolod City Council (25), City Population Office (23), Budget Office (21), Human Resources Department (17), Cooperative and Livelihood (13), DILG (11), MIT/Computer (9), City Tourism (5), and City Prosecutor and Register of Deeds with three each.

Overall, 448 are in the Mayor’s office, while 962 are in various administrative support offices, or a total of 1,410 occupying administrative positions. A total of 1,242 are in various social support services, but offices involved in direct social services have only 602 employees.

Comparatively, 55 percent of the City Hall’s regular employees are in administrative offices and 25 percent are in support offices. Only 20 percent are in direct social services.

Data further show that of the total number of employees, 60 percent are civil service personnel, while 40 percent were hired on qualifications other than merit and fitness, as the law requires – in other words, political protégés who failed to meet the qualification standards prescribed for government positions.

All these suggest that political patronage is decisive in the appointment of non-career officials occupying executive positions and a bigger number of casuals.

According to former CSC (Civil Service Commission) chairman Karina David, this is a clear abuse of authority and attributable to the “worsening politicization” and “unprofessional behavior” of the government bureaucracy in general.

A Government of Dynasty, Patrons and Crooks

The stories and reports about “pamilya incorporada”, political patrons, crooks, and liars in the Leonardia bureaucracy are not without basis. They have caused the loss of millions in people’s money, which could have otherwise been directed to economic relief for the majority of Bacolodnons who are wallowing in miserable conditions.

The Commission on Audit (CoA) Region VI has, since 2005, issued countless Official Observation Reports admonishing the Mayor and city officials to account for sundry questionable expenses; for donations for flood and other calamity-prone areas; huge amounts of unliquidated cash advances, loans, travel expenses, issued with questionable processes; questionable purchases of supplies, equipment, and property. The CoA repeatedly reminded city officials almost every year to follow strictly accounting and auditing standards.

Alleged scams and irregularities have not ceased to hound the Leonardia administration. Among the most pronounced and badly-criticized are the 11 Ombudsman cases involving the allegedly overpriced and illegal P395-million construction of the new government center; the multimillion-peso Grade 3 textbooks scam; the multimillion-peso computer sets project scam; the unexplained P262-million traveling and related expenses in 2005; the huge and unexplained P18.9-million personnel cash advances as of November 2007; the P72.6-million cash advances for fuel and gasoline expenses in 2007; the unexplained P68 million in the city’s reforestation project in 2005 and average of P28 million spent in the same program from 2006 to 2007; the P10-million overprice in the bidding for 10 six-wheeler dumptrucks from Manila-based Commercial Motors Corporation in 2007-2008; the P4-million rental of 10 dumptrucks in March 2008; the questionable P4 million in fuel expenses from P10 M fund for dredging project in Barangay Banago in November 2007; and the unauthorized donation of P4 million to the Silver Maskara Festival Organization Inc. in September 2007.

Other on-going transactions clouded with irregularities are the Sangguniang Panglunsod’s approval of P23.4 million for the purchase of the Lopez-owned six-hectare dumpsite in Barangay Feliza at P360 per square meter, when there are other offers at P100 to P150 per square meter only and when the DENR has already issued an evaluation report that the Lopez property is not suitable for use as a dumpsite and is highly hazardous to the community.

There are also the highly questionable appropriation of P50 million for the purchase of fixtures and furniture for the new government center and awarding of a contract to a questionable bidder; the Sangguniang Panglunsod appropriation of P7 million for the new government center’s electric connection to Transco, when the NEA (National Electrification Administration) and Transco have not yet approved the city’s connection proposal.

There are also the proposed repeal of City Ordinance 321 as justification for the removal of the 20-percent ceiling on personnel component of city’s projects; the amendment of city’s Revenue Code to give more powers to the city government to impose higher taxes.

Besides these, there are the reported overpriced construction of the city’s boxing ring under the auspices of the newly organized Association of Bacolod Amateur Boxers; arbitrary disbursement of millions in Pagcor (Philippines Amusements and Gaming Corporation) funds by the executive office; and the suspected inflow of dirty money from STL (small-town lottery) and other big time gambling operators into the city coffers.

Some of Leonardia’s officials are also facing individual administrative and criminal suits for cases of irregularities, unprofessionalism, unethical practices and cheating.

All the alleged scams wracking the Leonardia have deep roots in the culture of patronage, nepotism and clientele-ism practiced by past city administrations, and the semi-colonial and semi-feudal character of Philippine economic and political structures.

Indeed, power breeds corruption, and corruption anesthesizes.

Political or bureaucratic power enables them to ransack public funds and inflate the ill-gotten private wealth that they already possess. Corruption helps increase the power of Leonardia and his officials, and renders the poor Bacolodnons more marginalized economically, socially, and politically.

The poor governance and scams that plague the Leonardia administration exacerbated by the paralysis of internal and external institutional mechanisms against graft and corruption are what make it rotten to the core.

Toward a Democratic Governance

At the rate by which the present administration is losing its credibility, one begins to ask whether a reshuffling, or re-districting of the city, or even a shift in the form of government from unitary to federal, is enough to cure the cancer that afflicts the infrastructures of the Leonardia governance.

The way the Leonardia administration stands now, does not augur well for the general public. It even projects a weak, fractious, anti-people and anti-development administration.

Bereft of visions and programs that address the people’s welfare and democratic interests, they subvert the elections through manipulation, disinformation and the spreading of more myths; and run the bureaucracy like the extension of the private businesses of the Leonardia family and patrons.

The Leonardia administration however does not seem to understand that the people are smarter than they are made to appear – they are always able to sort out the grain from the chaff.

A local political leader recently said, “Let them (the city politicians and their apologists) wallow into believing that Bacolodnons will always go for the thieves in the city government.”

Movements for political and economic reforms are growing in various corners of the city and the province – involving the marginalized folks, business, professionals, state employees, the church, NGOs, and other groups and individuals that believe in a different kind of governance.

It is now becoming clearer in various circles that governance is about who wields political power. Political power should be in the hands of the people.

A truly democratic governance is far from the present realities but it is already taking shape amid the present contradictions.

The city government has still some well-meaning officials and people who are willing to give it another try especially with more push from political figures, sectors and groups who value their stake in the on-going reconfiguration of power.

In due time, democratic governance will emerge with the people bound by one vision, one mission, common goals and strategies, working as one despite divergence in ideas, adoptive to changing conditions, and with a political leadership that is able to unite divergent political forces in a common march towards real and lasting development and peace.

How this can be translated into a common and doable agenda is something that has to be defined and worked out by the major stakeholders and facilitators of change.

A change in city administration in 2010 may cause some improvements. But how significant and beneficial to the people this change will be remains to be seen. ((Bulatlat.com))

Notes:

1_COA 2005, 2006 and 2007 annual audit reports, http://www.coa.gov.ph
2_ Good Governance: The Political Solution to Socio-economic malaise, ESCAP, December 2008
3_ Korten and Siy; Transforming a Bureaucracy: The Experience of National Irrigation
Administration;1989
4_ Larkin; Sugar and the Origins of Modern Philippine Society; Introduction; Epilogue; 2001
5_ Jeremy Seabrook: Victims of Development; 1993; pp 7-19, 21-26
6_ Bacolod City Comprehensive Land Use Development Plan; 2000-2010
7_ State of the City Address of Bacolod City Mayor Evelio Leonardia; 2007
8_ Selected Interviews; 2007-2008
9_ News Clippings; Visayan Daily Star; Sun Star Bacolod; Negros Daily Bulletin; Negros Times;
Agila 2006-2008
10_ Eduardo, et al., Victor ; Ombudsman Cases against Bacolod City Officials on Government
Center; 2007; 2008
11_ Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG); Selected Articles; 2007-2008

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