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BUDYONG: The Local Government Code: After 20 years

MARIKINA CITY (MindaNews/07 October) — The Local Government Code was made law on October 10, 1991, 20 years ago.

Has it made a difference on the lives of our people?

I think so.

With some powers originally concentrated in the hands of the central government in Manila now devolved to the LGUs, there is no way the status quo (before the Code was enacted) in the areas of local governments would be kept. Moreover, with 40% of the monies that were previously collected and disbursed by the central government now going directly into the coffers of local government units, there is no preventing changes for the better in local governance from taking place.

But are there abuses?

Certainly, there are. Glaring examples are the brazen employments of Ghost Employees for Ghost Projects as in Quezon City and the unabashed bias for favored contractors as in Cagayan de Oro City.

In plain language, the looting of public funds does happen unfortunately in some LGUs.

But is that the fault of the Local Government Code?

Of course, it is not.

There are applicable laws against malversation or even plunder of public funds.

There are accounting procedures to be followed.

There is the Commission on Audit to check on the validity of the disbursement of public funds.

Still, the looting and the thievery go on. In some, but, happily, not in all local government units.

What can be done immediately to stop the hemorrhage of public funds that go into the bloody pockets of the thieves in local government?

Apply strict COA regulations. Replace COA auditors who are either helpless or, worse, in cahoots with corrupt local government officials.

Prosecute and jail all of them. Get the Ombudsman, now that we have a new one at the helm of the crime busting organization – Justice Conchita Carpio Morales – who has a no-nonsense and incorruptible reputation, to act speedily on the cases that are filed with the office. And not allow the inordinate delay of the charges that keep both the offenders and the offended parties waiting no end for a just resolution of their cases.

Perhaps, if corruption is really shown as a way of life of a particular local government unit, then, the next quarterly releases of the internal revenue shares of the concerned LGU may – by amendatory law – be withheld until the previously released shares are properly liquidated and accounted for.

There are some amendments to the Local Government Code that I urgently propose:

Increasing the internal revenue share of LGUs from 40% to 50%. This will translate into several billions more for the coffers of local governments.

Including the collections of all government agencies like Customs, the LTO, and, even from gas revenues in the totality of the funds to be divided up between the central and local governments 50-50. As of now, only BIR collections are included in the funds to be shared by the central government with the local government units.

Prohibiting the central government from recentralizing directly or indirectly the powers of agencies like Health, Agriculture and Social Welfare that had been devolved.

Reducing the Internal Revenue shares of certain cities that are awash with money and redirecting the excess funds to municipalities and barangays in clear need of development assistance.

Increasing the power and the funds of local governments for the education of their constituents and for disaster mitigation and risk management.

As I end, may I give this piece of advice to the national administration officials: Please do not tinker with the INTERNAL REVENUE shares of local governments. If you have to reduce their internal revenue shares, do so in accordance with law. There is a procedure defined in the Local Government Code to adjust the internal revenue shares. Follow the law and avoid complicating the lives of our people in and out of local governments. You will also avoid unnecessary lawsuits and antagonizing the officials and the residents especially of the poorer areas of the country.

Those are some observations that I, as one of the authors of the Local Government Code of 1991 feel I need to share with our readers. I hope that the ideas can spark better ones to attain the dream of local autonomy: law and order; peace and development, and, the much-awaited hope of the transformation of our people and our country.

[The author is now running the Center for Good Governance at the University of Makati]

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