LGUs urged to invest more in communication and public information

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/30 May) — Local government units should invest more in communication and public information to make them more transparent and understood by the public, Fr. Oliver Verdejo, station director of Catholic-church owned DXDB-Radyo Bandilyo said Friday.

Verdejo, co-chair of the Piniyalan 2013-2016, Reporting Governance Project, told MindaNews Friday that distrust is one reason for the gap between citizens and LGUs.

“The challenge is they (LGUs) don’t make themselves understood, understandable (to the citizens),” he added.

Piniyalan Reporting Governance, a project initiated by Bukidnon News.Net in partnership with DXDB-Radyo Bandilyo, is launching the third phase of its engagement with the “Dialogue Bukidnon: Kumustahay 2014 – Media-initiated Citizens-LGU Dialogue for Good Governance”.

Verdejo said the problem in most LGUs is the low priority given to public information and communication.

“The more they hold off information, the less they speak up, the more people suspect they are hiding something or are afraid to commit mistakes,” he added.

Ideally, the more they open up and speak to address people’s concerns, the more they (appear) to be open to critical collaboration, he added.

“If they do so, they will be understood instead of misunderstood,” he said.

Verdejo said seriously allocating budget for public information and communication “is for the sake of citizens.”

“Consider that as part and parcel of good governance. Do it without waiting for the people to ask as ‘talking’ to them is accountability,” he said, adding public information officers have a big task to do to improve governance.

He also clarified that “talking” and “walking the talk” are two sides of the same coin – LGUs should do the talking while performing their work.

Bruce Colao, Department of Interior and Local Government provincial director said being open to the citizens is not optional for LGUs as they are required by laws to be transparent in their transactions and decisions.

Colao cited, for example, that the full disclosure policy required LGUs to post in public places at least 14 financial documents and to submit the same to the DILG full disclosure policy portal.

“FDP (full disclosure policy) promotes honest, transparent, and orderly management of public funds; helps minimize, if not totally prevent corruption and misuse of public funds; and to increase the people’s awareness of the available public funds and the allocated amount for development projects in their localities,” the portal said.

Colao said in a time when information has become the anchor of power in societies, it is important that LGUs will be more open to their citizens.

Colao said educating the citizens about governance contributes to “changing the status quo”, especially the gap between them and the LGU.

Organizers of Piniyalan Reporting Governance Project has included the DILG-Bukidnon among its key partners in the third phase of its three-year project intended to help empower citizens through community reporting, education, and documentation activities.

It started with Dialogue Bukidnon: Piliay 2013 from November 2012 to June 2013 with 11 focus group discussions in the cities of Malaybalay and Valencia and the towns of Maramag and Manolo Fortich.

The discussions solicited issues and concerns the citizens would like to raise to their candidates for mayor, vice mayor, governor and vice governor.

The issues and concerns were used to formulate questionnaires for the key informant interviews with the candidates. A total of 17 of 28 respondent candidates, six of whom won, were interviewed.

The project planned to again raise the same issues and concerns with the respondent officials a year after their assumption of office. The officials will be asked to update the citizens on their accomplishments so far.

Verdejo said it is also important to invest in educating the citizens on good governance in a proactive way as it provides a lasting effect in contrast to “overnight quick fix” interventions.

Colao said to him the initiative is new but the area of focus is already in line with the work of the department. “We welcome it,” he added. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)