THE WORM’S EYEVIEW: Our community needs our attention

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CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/26 July) — Small as it is, our immediate community, the barangay, is worth developing, protecting, and ensuring against threats. We have do it or it won’t get done, because most of the people in charge are in it for what they can enjoy or get from it, while there are others who seek to dominate and exploit it.

Next to home, the community, our barangay, is our framework for apending a productive and fulfilling life. We live in it; we may set out to other communities to work; but at the end of the day, we return to it to enjoy the company and comfort of our home, household, and neighborhood.

Unlike before when our community had no government of its own and nil resources for operations, today there is plenty to be vigilant about.

It has its own physical facility complete with personnel, revenues, operating budget, and other assets including real estate, vehicles, even ambulances, and building and equipment that can be mismanaged.

Millions of pesos are involved in managing our barangay, plus millions more that it receives by way of assistance from the mayor, the congressman, and maybe even a senator and the president.

If not ably administered, much of these benefits and assets can be dissipated by politically tainted expenditures like patronage and vanity projects.

The aid money is supposed to be invested on human development and social services, on job training or livelihood, on women, youth, and senior citizens.

But often it doesn’t work out that way, as witness how most barangays remain in a stagnant condition, with no visible improvements and hardly a notable activity.

Obviously it is not well comprehended by barangay officials that the funds it receives—especially the internal revenue allotment (IRA)—is the barangay’s investment capital for development, not a spending allowance.

Yet for the most part, they treat the money as such, resulting to the phenomenon at the end of the year of a virtually empty treasury and no return on investment to show for all the year’s expenditures.

It’s what happens when the community elects undereducated officials with marginal knowledge of governance or management. The problem is exacerbated when such officials carry on with their wrong-headed concepts of governance and no one bothers to correct them.

For example, many barangay officials claim that barangay funds revert to the national treasury if not spent by year’s end. They cite this to explain why they indulge in a spending binge in December until their bank deposits are exhausted—leaving nothing to carry over into the succeeding year.

Such misconceptions ought to be noted, especially by the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the bureau of local government finance—and corrected so the problem does not persist.

Citizen empowerment and development management are two serious gaps in the program of these national agencies including the Local Government Academy of the DILG. They conduct training programs for elected officials but no orientation for the constituents. Thus, even as they ensconce the officials more firmly in power, the constituents are kept ignorant and powerless. Unaware of their role in the local governing process, they are not motivated to participate.

As for management development, the costs of development and the need to improve the barangay’s financial standing as a public corporation is rarely mentioned. As a result, they do not maximize returns on investment or produce enough to increase the gross barangay product.

Even as money is freely spent, how it promotes or increases productivity and opportunity in the neighborhoods are not factored. And nothing is done about the practice of maximizing the personal allowances of the chairman and the kagawads, diminishing the budget for development projects.

The bottom line issue in all this is the absence of citizen oversight over their own government’s operations—which the law requires but which the citizens are not aware of as a duty. Thus it’s no surprise that barangay citizens derive little or no benefit from the local government.

Instead of benefiting the people, to whom all the money of the barangay belongs, it benefits mostly the politicians, mostly trapos, who control its operations.

Transparency and accountability are also serious issues that are unaddressed in barangays: their funds and other assets are invisible to their constituents because the officials don’t bother to post the statements of income and expenditures—as required in at least three prominent places like the main street, the plaza, or the market.

As a result, practically only the barangay chairman and the treasurer know about the amounts remitted to its account periodically as well as the collections from local taxes and fees. Indeed, no one knows whether the account is in the barangay’s name or its officials’.

Does anyone know how much their government spends on make-work projects with built-in kickbacks, on maintenance of equipment and vehicles they freely use, on junkets, on dole outs to ensure voter loyalty, and other schemes that do nothing for the community’s quality or quantity of life? No one’s paying attention!

Manny is former UNESCO regional director for Asia-Pacific; secretary-general, Southeast Asia Publishers Association; director, development academy of Philippines; vice chair, Local Government Academy; member, Cory Govt’s Peace Panel; and awardee, PPI-UNICEF most outstanding columnist. He is President and National Convenor of Gising Barangay Movement Inc

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