WORM’S EYEVIEW: Take charge!

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[This takes off from previous pieces on the same topic, which dealt with steps in empowering a citizen (Step Nos. 1 to 4), as a way to prepare for the synchronized Barangay Assemblies scheduled on Saturday, March 28, 2015.]

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/24 March) — It is good that the concept of “Bottom Up Budgeting” (BUB) is becoming the mantra of national and local agencies in planning for development. It’s as it should be.

But to be effective, the people must be involved, not just self-appointed representatives, delegates, or spokespersons that presume to speak for the community. It’s important for barangay citizens to ensure that this is so, enlisting knowledgeable neighbors to pitch in—e.g. financial professionals and the like. Thus,

EMPOWERING STEP NO. 5: Help professionalize budget preparation, making sure the final version covers the top priority needs of the community.

The barangay’s common fund is at stake here. Not only the internal revenue allotment (IRA) is involved (the fund that officials use up like a spending allowance without thinking of a return on investment). There are revenues of all types like the barangay’s share of real property taxes collected by the municipality/city, other taxes and fees charged for various transactions, and even grants. They must all be factored; all expenditures carefully planned; not left to chance.

Budgets are supposed to be formulated in collaboration with the stakeholders, with due regard for revenue expectations and the community’s potential for growth. If there is no Development Plan, the common fund can only be misused, abused, and depleted.

First—Insist that it be reviewed by the Barangay Assembly. It should be based on the approved development and investment Plan. Anyone serious about good governance and preventing corruption should not tolerate the long-time practice of giving the chairman and the sanggunian blanket authority in formulating it and a blank check to spend as they please. It encourages corruption and violates the principle of accountability.

Second—Examine the item for personal services. The law allows up to a maximum of fifty-five percent (55%) of annual income to be spent for personal services. But the officials habitually treat this maximum as the minimum. After subtracting mandatory allocations such as the 10% for the sangguniang kabataan, and the 5% as calamity fund, very little is left for basic services and development programs.

Few residents know that their barangay chairman and sanggunian members draw allowances and enjoy perks comparable to those of business executives, to the detriment of basic services. Not good. To view their allowance as a salary instead of just an allowance violates the spirit of the law.

To provide for themselves first is to provide for the community last. It is self-service instead of public service. Officials should not rely on the barangay’s limited funds. They should be earning a salary somewhere else; otherwise they are a burden instead of an asset to the community. Worse, they are susceptible to corruption.

For this reason, people who cannot make a living by themselves are unsuitable for public office and should be discouraged from seeking political office. It is bad enough that they possess neither the aptitude nor the skills for managing a government, a corporation, or an economy.

EMPOWERING STEP NO. 6: Promote Volunteerism as a way of saving on the costs of development while providing avenues of service for the able, the willing, and the well-off in the community.

There are citizens who would welcome the opportunity to help, to give, or to share what they can. Generous souls feel the need to express their ideas, art, craft, technique, or good fortune. They need an avenue of service.

Service to community or fellowman is the hallmark of responsible, caring citizens. It is why there are civic clubs and service organizations in every society—Jaycees and Rotarians, Lions and Kiwanis, Eagles and Scouts, Coast Guard Auxiliaries, CFC-Gawad Kalinga, and so on. They wish to serve, to show concern for others, and they like doing it for free, not for pay.

It is right and proper that they be provided an avenue for their altruism or philanthropy. They shouldn’t have to go beyond their barangay to satisfy their communitarian ideals. They are stakeholders in it; they should be accommodated. The community’s government should make room for their creativity, their enterprise, their vision, and their sense of mission. As volunteers, they entail little or no financial cost. In fact, they should be drafted to replace those who insist on getting paid for community service!

First—Take stock of the professionals, retired persons, housewives, and youth with time or special skills to share, and make room for them in the barangay’s programs and projects. They are invaluable for promoting the arts and crafts, fitness and sports, hobbies and livelihood courses. They will enliven community life, expand the residents’ horizons, and enhance local pride. In turn, the experience will deepen the bonds between them (the volunteers) and the community. It will raise local citizen morale and boost their patriotism.

Second—Take stock of the cultural needs of the community. Does it need a Library and Reading Center—with books, journals, magazines, reference materials, and newspapers? It shouldn’t be just commercial handouts and giveaways, complimentary stuff; an information and research center for both youth and adults is important for intellectual and cultural development. Why not literacy and numeracy courses, or agro-industrial seminars? Lectures and demonstrations on technology and industrial skills are always useful.

Make room also for activities that promote culture and refine manners such as driving habits and road courtesy for motorists and pedestrians. Why only physical sports or song-and-dance concerts when there can also be intellectual and mentally challenging events? There could be chess, scrabble or Sudoku games, sewing circles, or artists’ corners and piano concerts.

Too long has the preponderance of television and mass entertainment fare victimized and bastardized grassroots culture and the masses, making a mockery of formal education and Filipino values. The community should make up for the damage this has done in its neighborhoods.

Manny is former UNESCO regional director for Asia-Pacific; secretary-general, Southeast Asia Publishers Association; director, development academy of Philippines; member, Philippine Mission to the UN; vice chair, Local Government Academy; member, Cory Govt’s Peace Panel; awardee, PPI-UNICEF outstanding columnist. He is chairman/convenor, Gising Barangay Movement Inc. and author of books on governance.   valdehuesa@gmail.com

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