Citizens want more roles for better governance

 

WHAT DO CITIZENS EXPECT from their local government unit (LGU)?  How do they see themselves in the arena of local governance?  What do they think about the possibilities of working together in helping their local government become more responsive and accountable?

These were but some of the questions sought to be answered by a national baseline survey to assess citizens’ level of awareness about social accountability issues. It was also designed to provide inputs to the activities and strategies of the project Citizen Action Network for Accountability (CANA), a multi-year initiative partly supported by the Delegation of the European Union to the Philippines.

Conducted by the Center for Community Journalism and Development (CCJD), one of the four CANA partners, the survey intends to bring out impressions of citizens on the performance of their local government, the extent of citizens’ participation, and the possibilities of introducing social accountability to citizens’ groups.  The other CANA partners are the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), MindaNews, and National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP).

The survey questionnaires were distributed in a targeted manner through email and online formats but very few responded. This prompted the survey team to re-strategize and instead focus on sectoral representatives and leaders who would be articulating the views of those they represent.  Thus, the survey questionnaires were sent out directly to those involved in human rights including freedom of information groups, academe, youth and students, social development, news media, religious, business, local governance, communicators, and labor. 

The online survey is still live with respondents continuing to accomplish the questionnaire results of which can later be integrated in the study. 


Sectors of Respondents

The survey shows that respondents in all areas have identified the roles of elected officials in social accountability as service providers, generating jobs and ensuring peace and order. These choices served as prompts to help them think the questions through.  Participating in locally organized activities also garnered the highest number of “yes” answers.

In almost all areas, respondents said that these roles are being carried out. Interestingly, even if the respondents said that these roles are being carried out, most of them also said that these are inadequate to deal with local problems or were simply limited to actually make a difference.

Most of the respondents identified the issuance of ordinances as a way by which officials respond to the identified problems, while a few mentioned some specific actions like dredging rivers or increasing police visibility to address environmental and security issues. This suggests that enforcing local laws and ordinances remains a challenge.

In the Visayas, some respondents said that local government responds to problems only when citizens complain. There appears to be no initiative on the part of local officials to identify the problems.

These two sets of answers show that respondents believe that their local governments should be performing their mandated functions in addition to solving local issues. While some officials may have taken steps to resolve some current issues, majority of survey respondents believed that these were inadequate or that the LGU has failed to do so.

This also shows that citizen awareness should be supported by continuing vigilance but that this can only work if there are mechanisms for citizen participation. These mechanisms, aside from functioning as avenues for working with communities, can also provide feedback.

It is particularly noteworthy that the respondents in all the areas believed that citizens have a role to play in making the government address these problems.

When asked about what they think citizens can do to solve these problems, various answers were presented which did not only stop at calling the attention of the local government but included actions such as: 

  • Monitoring and getting involved in budgeting and project implementation
  • Networking, organizing and doing collective actions.

It’s also significant that a few have identified the need to either help activate or take part in the local development councils as a way to help solve the problems in their communities which is consistent with the results reflected in the answers to the question about their participation in local governance mechanisms.

Most of the respondents believed that the most important and best mechanism available for them to be involved is through taking part in organized activities of their local government. Although these activities were not identified in the survey, it can be surmised that the reason for this is that citizens would rather take part as volunteers or participants as this may not require much effort as opposed to participating in project implementation.

Again, it may be safe to conclude that respondents viewed providing feedback as a way to participate easily and more conveniently.

The answers of the respondents on the importance of institutionalizing social accountability mechanisms were not consistent with their answers about their actual participation. Most of the respondents in all areas said that they have not been part of these mechanisms. While most did not cite their reasons, some said they preferred participating at the national level and because local governments or, as in the case of those in Mindanao, elected officials prefer to invite allies, friends, relatives and supporters.

In the problems that the respondents identified, it can be concluded that there could be a failure among the covered LGUs to effectively deliver even the basic social services such as health, livelihood, peace and order, etc. 

It can be concluded that the lack of LGU openness to citizen’s participation stems from the lack of feedback mechanisms and the low level of involvement among the community groups. In all, the study builds a good case for a campaign to popularize social accountability and implement it properly with the use of mechanisms guaranteed by law, for example, citizen groups’ participation in local development councils.  Or, as suggested by majority of the responses, organization of, and participation in, citizen-led formations or initiatives for better governance.

Click here for the full survey report. Citizen Action Network for Accountability