Multiple Levels of Government
In an archipelago of more than 7,600 islands, decentralized power is a keystone to development, but many reforms are needed to achieve effective governance.
Of the Philippines’ different levels of government, there are 18 regions, 81 provinces and 145 major cities, towns and barangays (an administrative and political division the size of a neighborhood).
The regions aspire to greater autonomy. Two already have their own system of government, which takes into account indigenous populations’ desire for greater control. Elsewhere, the job of decentralization remains incomplete, and resources are unevenly allocated across regions. Jurisdictions are sometimes unclear.
AFD and the Asian Development Bank have provided funding for public policy programs that support a process of technical decentralization that has been unfolding for the past 10 years.
Thus far, two reform programs have been completed and a third is in progress. The Seal of Good Local Governance is an incentive program designed to promote best practices in local governance, including preparation for natural disasters.
Other reforms have succeeded in improving collection procedures for property taxes, implementing training for new local representatives, and creating a citizen satisfaction index.
Discussions based on the French model
As part of a long-term dialog, AFD has organized multiple research trips to France for Filipino authorities to meet with their counterparts in French institutions and local governments that use innovative tools and models for decentralization.
“Recent decentralization reforms in France are encouraging and very instructive, particularly in terms of implementing national priorities,” says Niño B. Alvina, head of the local administration finance bureau who participated in the research trip.
“We came back from the trip with new perspectives, and we will reconsider our initiatives to improve budgetary decentralization policies in light of what we learned.”
Among the topics covered was the creation of intercommunal entities, which have existed in France since 1984 and have gradually expanded since. They provide a mechanism to manage urban services like water, transportation and waste management, and structural policies such as economic development.
Having convened with officials at the city of Bordeaux, the Filipino delegation saw that the interests of the region can transcend political divisions via intercommunal agreements. This suggests there’s an opportunity to adopt similar approaches in the Philippines.
The relationship between national and local governments was also discussed at length. This mechanism for planning and financing infrastructure at the regional level, under the supervision of the French General Commission for the Equality of Regions (CGET), is also of interest to the Philippines, since it would favor aligning regional and national strategies for infrastructure development.
In discussions with the SGAR (Secretary General for Regional Affairs) and the Nouvelle Aquitaine region, the delegation delved into the detail, studying mechanisms for developing and tracking contracts. They also looked at the recruitment and training of local government agents. Greater regional autonomy will require skilled personnel, particularly in areas of financial management.
The French National Center for Regional Public Office gave a presentation to the delegation on methods for recruiting and training agents in regional public office. The AFD Campus, which was also present, presented its course curriculum on city management as well as innovations in online learning.
These exchanges will help define the next phase of technical assistance, in connection with the current loan for public policy on decentralization.