BATU, Indonesia. Photo by Jes Aznar

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

My Latest Contribution to the Citizen Action Network for Accountability

Citizens urged to help assess LGU performance

By Iris Cecilia Gonzales
EACH AND EVERY Filipino citizen belongs to at least one local government unit (LGU), which they can run to for help, long before they can call on to the national government.
But are all LGUs really capable of helping their respective constituents? What if LGUs fail in their mandate to govern? What if they are not aware that they fail in providing basic services to their constituents?
The government, through the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), thus came up with different tools to assess the performance of LGUs. 

Local Government Performance Management System (LGPMS)
“The DILG has its role of supervision, delegated and mandated by the President to have an oversight function over local governments. One definition of supervision is performance oversight. After performance oversight, we look at capacity development,” Girlie Zara, Assistant Division Chief of the DILG’s Local Government Performance Management Division, said in an interview with CANA. “On the performance oversight, we wanted to check whether the local governments are really doing what is expected of them to do, which is governing properly.”
With this mandate, the DILG thus developed the so-called local governance management system (LGPMS) to monitor and assess the performance of LGUs. 
As defined by the DILG, the LGPMS is a web-based information management tool for LGUs and the DILG for planning, investment programming, policy development, and decision-making purposes. 
In a nutshell, the system is primarily a survey and report generation application that is accessed by the country’s 1,700 municipal, city and provincial governments. 
“It adapts to workflows covering local, provincial and regional approval processes. The system is also useful to other national government agencies, non- government institutions and international donor agencies with interests in local governance and development,” the DILG said. 
Done annually, the LGPMS enables the DILG to centrally consolidate gathered data in to determine the state of LGUs and existing trends. 
“The purpose is to perform our role as performance oversight over local governments. It provides recognition and incentives to local governments, which do good.  At the same time, those that lag behind others are given project interventions.  For example, if they need better water services, we provide them with a water-related project,” said Zara. 
The DILG continues to improve the LGPMS system.
From 2009 to 2012, the LGPMS essentially focused on different factors that affect development, Zara said. These include revenue collections and how LGUs spend their money, development planning, human resource management and whether they provide social services, housing and basic utilities, she also said.
Zara added there are also indicators on environment, health and tourism.  
Specifically, the indicators are divided into Governance Cluster and Development Indicators. 
Under Governance Indicators Cluster, LGUs are assessed in the performance of (1) Administrative Governance (local legislation, development planning, revenue generation, resource allocation and utilization, customer service and human resource management and development); (2) Social Governance (health service, support to education, support to housing and basic utilities, peace, security and disaster risk management); (3) Economic Governance (support to agriculture sector, support to fishery services, entrepreneurship, business and industry promotion); (4) Environmental Governance (forest ecosystem management, fresh water ecosystem management, coastal marine ecosystem management and urban ecosystem management); and (5) Valuing Fundamentals of Good Governance (transparency, participation and financial accountability). 
The Development Indicators Cluster is composed of three sectors and 11 sub-sectors. These are Social Development (State of Health and Nutrition, State of Education, State of Housing and Basic Utilities and Peace and Order Condition); Economic Development (State of Income and State of Employment) and Environmental Development (State of Agricultural Ecosystem, State of Forest Ecosystem, State of Coastal Marine Ecosystem, State of Freshwater Ecosystem and State of Urban Ecosystem). 
“Previously, it was a self-assessment system. This meant that we have the questionnaires and the LGUs answer the questionnaires on their own. Individually, they answer and then discuss their answers on the survey tool.  They have identified an encoder and the encoder puts the data in the system,” Zara said.
However, Zara said the DILG eventually transformed it from a self-assessment system to get a better gauge of LGU performance. The department realized that self-assessment may not be accurate because there could be conflict of interest. 
Hence, the DILG partnered with other agencies such as the Departments of Health and Environment to come up with the indicators and to assess the performance of the LGUs in the different aspects. 
The software converts the LGPMS indicators into performance levels ranging from 1 to 5. The highest performance level is set at 5 while the lowest is at 1 and the benchmark is set at 3, according to DILG’s profile on the LGPMS. 
“After that, the system processes data inputs and produces tabular and graphical reports, for purposes of information, analysis, and managing Local Government Units’ performance, service delivery and development conditions,” the DILG said. 
In determining the scale, the indicator value of an LGU has to be compared to the national average in a given year.  
“A higher value than the national average gets a higher scale while the lower value gets a lower scale,” the DILG also said. 
The latest improvement in the LGPMS system is that it has been linked to the Seal of Good Local Governance (SGLG), a new benchmark launched by the DILG. 
“Now, LGPMS has evolved. This time around we linked it to the Seal of Good Local Governance. In the past, we had the Seal of Good Housekeeping, which focused on accountability and transparency,” said Zara.
The SGLG focuses on more areas. This was launched last January 15 upon the initiative of DILG Secretary Mar Roxas. 
The SGLG aims for a condition where LGUs not only sustain the practice of accountability and transparency - but are also able to prepare for the challenges posed by disasters and are sensitive to the needs of vulnerable and marginalized sectors. 
Thus, the SGLG measures disaster preparedness and social protection. The SGLG also looks at these indicators: “business-friendliness and competitiveness, peace and order, and environmental management.”
LGUs meeting the minimum criteria shall be rewarded with incentives on top of being conferred with the Seal. Incentives include the Performance Challenge Fund and access to other national performance-based programs.
On the other hand, for those that do not meet the mark, the DILG will provide capacity development interventions to help them earn the Seal, said Roxas in a speech during the launch in January.
The SGLG originated from the Seal of Good Housekeeping (Seal or SGHK) launched in 2010 under the term of the late DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo. This, however only measured the levels of compliance to the department's Full Disclosure Policy, particularly in the areas of budget, revenues and procurement, having no adverse findings by the Commission on Audit (COA) and meeting the requirements of anti-red tape qualities. 
The DILG will implement the SGLG every year, covering all provinces, cities and municipalities. 
"The SGLG symbolizes integrity and good performance of local governments. Let it be a continuing challenge for provincial, city and municipal governments to do better today and in the years to come," Roxas said in his speech.
The Seal of Good Housekeeping for Local Governments, in its initial implementation last year, recognized 30 municipalities for their good performance in internal housekeeping. Assessment focused on the areas of good planning, sound fiscal management, transparency and accountability, and valuing of performance information.
The Seal is a requirement in accessing the Performance Challenge Fund, a grant given to local governments to finance development projects.

LGUS that rank high in the annual LGPMS ratings are more than willing to share the recognition they received. 
In the case of Makati for instance, Mayor Jejomar “Junjun” Binay thanked the DILG for recognizing the city government’s effort to improve its performance in every major aspect of local governance.
This was just in February when the DILG cited Makati for its excellence in local governance when it topped the 2012 LGPMS among the 17 cities and municipalities in the National Capital Region (NCR).
“We remain firmly committed to providing the best public service to Makati’s stakeholders, and we are heartened by the positive outcome of such a stringent assessment as the LGPMS,” Binay said.
Binay said such regular evaluations are important in helping LGUs focus on raising their performance levels to deliver the best quality of public service to their constituents.
DILG-Makati Director Gloria Aguhar said Makati earned an overall of 4.947, with 5.00 as the perfect score.
According to the DILG, Makati scored as follows:  administrative governance (4.85), social governance (4.96), economic governance (5.00), environmental governance (5.00), and valuing fundamentals of good governance (4.93).
San Juan City landed second, with overall rating of 4.941, and Marikina City in third place, 4.932.

Because the LGPMS does not cover barangays, the DILG has a different system for barangays -- the Barangay Performance Management System. The system covers at least 42,000 barangays. 
This is not yet web-based but is nonetheless deemed critical in assessing the performance of barangays, said Leo Trovela, OIC-Director of the DILG’s National Barangay Operations Office. 
“This is for accountability and transparency. It is also needed to see that the barangays fulfill their mandate of mobilizing the community to participate in governance,” Trovela said in an interview. 
The system particularly seeks to determine and establish the level of performance of the barangay government in the areas of Administration, Social Services, Economic Development, and Environmental Management (ASEE) in relation to the mandates of the 1991 Local Government Code and other related laws.
It is viewed as a system that complements the LGPMS, said Trovela. 
“BGPMS therefore contributes to the vision of the Department to nurture self-reliant, progressive, orderly, safe and globally-competitive communities,” the DILG said in the BGPMS profile. 
The system assesses administrative functions, social services and economic development. 
The administrative function refers to the functions and duties and related services, and activities performed by each barangay.  It covers the following nine service areas: Barangay Legislation, Transparency, Citizen’s Participation, Development Planning, Revenue Generation, Revenue Allocation and Utilization, Financial Accountability, Facilities and Customer Service, and Human Resource Management and Development.
On the other hand, Social Services Evaluation looks at the delivery of such services as Health and Nutrition; Education and Culture; Women and Children; and Peace; Public Safety and Disaster Risk Management. 
Economic development, meanwhile, refers to economic institution and policies that should be in place to facilitate efficiency, equity, and productivity of economic governance. It includes Agriculture and Fisheries Development, and Entrepreneurship, Business and Industry Promotion.

Both the LGPMS and BGPMS seek to improve the performance of LGUs. 
Zara concedes, however, that change does not happen overnight. 
“Some LGUs take the results very seriously and now, compared to before, the LGUS keenly await the results of the LGPMS,” Zara said.
She said it is also an eye-opener for LGUs as they become aware of their weaknesses. 
But Zara admits there are no sanctions involved, whatever the results are, except in cases where LGUs violate existing laws. 
“The DILG does not impose punishment. It does not have police powers. In cases where laws are violated, it is up to the Ombudsman or the Sandiganbayan (Anti-Graft Court),” she said. 
Despite this, Zara believes that the LGPMS system is effective in improving LGUs’ performance. 
“This is a transformational change. This does not happen overnight,” she said. 

LGUs’ response
In 2011, then Leyte Governor Carlos Jericho Petilla received the DILG’s Gawad Pamana ng Lahi Award for the exemplary performance of Leyte. The award is given to LGUs that have exemplary performance as seen in their high scores in the LGPMS. 
It is given, in particular to a province, city or municipality for exemplary performance in administrative, social, economic and environmental governance, the DILG said. 
As a recipient of such recognition, Petilla said the DILG’s move to measure LGUs’ performance is helpful. 
“Measuring something is good. You know where to improve on. It’s also an indicator for investors to know where they can go,” Petilla said in an interview. 
He said that investors and businessmen are always looking for places where they can invest and set up shops. Without such indicators, they cannot assess a certain LGU. 
Petilla also said that it is better now that the LGPMS is no longer a self-assessment process but independently assessed by the DILG and other agencies. 
This way, LGUs themselves would really know their actual scores and realize which areas they have to improve on.  
It’s also the LGUs’ respective constituents’ way of knowing the performance of their LGUs, Petilla added.

LGPMS: strengths and weaknesses
The Institute for Solidarity in Asia (ISA) is a group that gauges good governance initiatives. 
Established in 2000, the group encourages good governance and comprehensive reforms at the national level and served as a knowledge base for such reforms in East Asia. 
An ISA member and trustee Rex Drilon said in an interview that LGPMS is a good system in a sense that it provides a measure of governance. 
“If you cannot measure something, you don’t know how it is working,” Drilon told CANA in an interview. 
“If you can’t measure it, it doesn’t get done because people don’t know what they’re supposed to do,” he added.
The LGPMS, he said, provides a comprehensive view of how LGUs are performing through the different indicators. 
“It looks at governance of LGUs in different aspects and perspectives,” Drilon said.
Thus, as a tool, it helps LGUs perform better, Drilon said. 
“It also helps determine the best practices of LGUs,” he added. 
At the same time, Drilon said, there are areas for improvement. 
He said that a strong leader must support and impelement the LGPMS. He believes that during the time of the late DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo, LGPMS was a major priority. 
However, he said this doesn’t seem to be the case under the leadership of Roxas but he declined to elaborate. 
Roxas’ new system, the Seal of Good Local Governance, has a corresponding cash award or incentive to LGUs that perform well. This system is linked to the existing LGPMS.
Another weakness of the system is that it is not integrated with other government performance scorecards such as those which the Civil Service Commission or the Department of Budget and Management conduct, said Drilon.
Milwida Guevara, a tax and LGU expert and advocate for good public governance also said that LGPMS, as pushed forward by Robredo is a good performance check system as it empowered LGUs. 
“Sec. Jesse [Robredo] started it well---defining standards of good performance, recognizing those who are doing well.  The Mayors did not need any political connection to be recognized,” she said.
Moving forward, the government can help improve the way LGUs perform by trusting them more, Guevara said. 
This is on top of programs and systems such as the LGPMS.
“The central government should have more trust on the capacity of local governments.  LGUs are not involved in many programs of the central government such as the 4Ps,” Guevara said, referring to the government’s conditional cash-transfer program. 
Their non-involvement threatens the sustainability of the program.  More importantly, it is not empowering, she said.
She said that LGUs are at the forefront of the delivery of public services---especially disaster preparedness and relief, which is why the government should be able to trust them. In cases of disasters, she said that the central government is too far to respond to the needs of the community. 
“After trust comes building their capacity to govern well,” Guevara said.

People empowerment
The DILG’s Zara said the LGUs are not moved or encouraged by carrots and sticks but how their constituents appreciate them.
“I’d like to think we are more mature now than before. So it’s more of empowering the people, the citizens to take part actively in governance. It’s better if the citizens are the ones demanding accountability,” she said.
Thus, when an LGU is able to provide good service to its citizens, it truly deserves to be recognized. 
However, Zara said the citizens play an important role. She encouraged citizens to play an active role in keeping the significance of LPGMS results by constantly engaging their LGUs to do better based on their scorecards. 
She said it would be good if citizens react to the results of the annual survey by constantly being part of public meetings which the DILG and LGUs conduct. 
“Citizens must constantly engage their LGUs,” Zara said.
At the end of the day, it’s really the quality of services the citizens get that really matters and they are indeed, the final judge. Citizen Action Network for Accountability 

(The author covers the economy for The Philippine Star and blogs about development and humanitarian stories. Some of her articles may be read in her blog site.) 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Roaming the World On Two Wheels

“A bicycle ride around the world begins with a single pedal stroke.” ~ Scott Stoll

XI'AN, China - In the cobblestoned streets of Xi'an's City Wall, I (re) discovered biking. I used to bike when I was a little girl. I shared a blue BMX bike with my older brothers but I outgrew it or had
forgotten about it when adulthood happened.

But when I travel to different places and there's a chance to grab a bike, I go for it. Riding a bicycle, after all, is apparently something you don't forget once you know.

I've tried it in Europe in the hills of the Czech Republic many years ago and in Palawan after spending five days on a boat from Coron to El Nido a few years back.

And then there's Xi'an, the eternal city, a testament to the foresight of the Chinese emperors who built it thousands of years ago. It is here at Xi'an City Wall -- an ancient military defense system spanning 13.7 kilometers -- where I roamed the world again one pedal at a time, the wind kissing my face, the elements blowing my hair and the gentle, noonday sun warming my soul.

Photos by Jes Aznar, Likha Cueva, Alena Flores and me

Sunday, April 6, 2014

An Army for the Afterlife

XI'AN, China - This is a story that began two centuries ago with the death of a king, he with the thick, long beard and a black dragon robe buried somewhere at the foot of a mystical mountain in a mausoleum the size of a city.

There is an army of at least 8,000 men. They are standing, strong and brave, in battle formation, with their chariots and armory; their horses and weapons, swords and shields, axes and crossbows, in strict accordance with the Art of War.

They have been standing for over 2,200 years, before the birth of Christ, ready for war yet there is no war.

This is the story of the magnificence of the terra-cotta army, an army for the afterlife of King Zheng of Qin, better known by his modern Chinese name Qin Shi Huang, China's first emperor whose leadership ended the warring states era and unified China.

I am inside the museum, here in Xian, looking in awe at the gallant guardians of the emperor, discovered in 1974 by local farmers in the Lintong District of Xi'an in the province of Shaanxi. The farmers discovered ancient bronze weapons and broken terra cotta pieces while digging a well, instantly attracting archeologists all over the world.

The warriors are life size terra-cotta figures with designs so intricate that archeologists believe they were designed after the men from the actual army of the Qin Dynasty.

Each and every soldier, horseman, longbow bearer, archer and general are well positioned in grand ancient army formation.

The figures are in three different pits inside the museum complex, not far from the emperor's tomb. They include warriors, chariots and horses. Many are still buried and have yet to be unearthed.

The first pit, opened to the public in 1979, is the largest, showing columns of soldiers at the front followed by war chariots at the back while the second pit contained over a thousand warriors. Archeologists discovered it 20 meters northeast of Pit 1.

The third pit, believed to be command center of the armed forces, went on display in 1989 with 68 warriors, a war chariot and four horses, according to the website, xi’

Built over a period of 38 years by more than 700,000 men, the terra-cotta warriors were made to guard the emperor in his after life and to honor the brave warriors of the Qin Dynasty who helped unify China. It is considered to be one of the most significant archeological works in the 20th century.

Visitors to the museum will agree.

This army for the afterlife is of such grand scale and magnificence, that one may feel transported to another dimension, somewhere between life and death and death and beyond and see each and every warrior come to life.

I almost heard generals commanding their men, horses galloping and chariots moving back and fourth, guarding the emperor’s dynasty.

One is brought in an instant to the chaotic ancient warring states period where Chinese leaders competed for power until the emperor Qin asserted supremacy and used his army to unify China.

It is a story from forgotten times yet the reminders are as vivid as life, as complex as war and as immortal as the afterlife.

Why the emperor built his army of clay with such breathtaking magnificence and grandeur is a secret buried with him; many questions remain unanswered.

What is clear, for sure, is that his secrets are safe, guarded by the more than 8,000 men; as safe as he is as they guard him round the clock for more than 2,000 years now, wherever he is, somewhere, somewhere out there between a grass covered mountain where his body lies untouched even by the bravest archeologists, and the great beyond.