A STUDY OF FORMS AND APPROACHES TO DECENTRALIZATION OF POWER AND MECHANISMS FOR POPULAR PARTICIPATION IN LOCAL ADMINISTRATION
Mr. Olarn Ongla
Coordinator, Study Group on Decentralization and Participatory Local Governance
9 Mu 7, Muang Na Sub-district, Chiang Dao District,
Decentralization has very much been on the agenda of several Southeast Asian countries since the 1990s. Nevertheless, it has been a highly contested issue, and both the depth of decentralization as well as the extent of local popular participation fostered by it have varied, depending on the specific circumstances of the different countries.
Unfortunately, to this date, nowhere has decentralization resulted in government being brought close enough to the people, with the door being opened to thoroughgoing self-determination in the form of truly substantive citizen participation in local governance. On the contrary, it seems as if decentralization has in practice often been stalled, and the prospects for greater popular participation stemming from lower barriers to access to government have not been realized. In the case of
With the support of the Nippon Foundation and the Asian Public Intellectuals Program, I was able to go study decentralization and popular participation in local administration in the
Although my studies as an API fellow focused explicitly on the experience of decentralization and popular participation in local administration in the Philippines and Indonesia, because of my own background as a local government official in rural northern Thailand and someone who has been working for several years to advocate for genuine decentralization of power that provides spaces for villagers participation in local administration, my studies of these two cases necessarily also involved implicit comparison with the Thai case. Indeed, comparative study on decentralization and popular participation in local governance involving these three countries is quite instructive, since all three have major similarities, yet the outcome in terms of level of participation differs rather significantly.
In spite of having populations that come from different ethnic and religious groups, the Southeast Asian countries of Thailand, the Philippines, and Indonesia all share in common a political culture dominated by patronage, as well as the constellation of problems intricately linked to it, including corruption and vote buying. Furthermore, all three countries have ethnic minorities at their periphery who, at various times, have made demands for greater autonomy or independence while, at the same time, nervous and insecure centers have argued for the necessity of maintaining strong central control in the name of national unity. Historically,
Yet despite the above mentioned similarities, decentralization has in practice meant different things in the three different countries, and the degree of popular participation that has been fostered or emerged to fill the new spaces created for it within the context of decentralization has varied tremendously from one country to the next and, even within the individual countries themselves. After determining that there were differing levels of popular participation, my research attempted to answer the question of why these differences existed in spite of the similarities in factors leading to decentralization in all three countries. The answer to this question is important in fulfilling the objective of my study, which is to draw lessons from the experience of decentralization in the
In the following sections of this paper, I will first briefly examine the historical and legal contexts for decentralization in the three countries. Next, I will report my findings on some NGOs playing a key facilitating role in the
Historical and legal context of decentralization
With pro-democracy and anti-military sentiment high in the period following the bloody events of May 1992, progressive elements in Thai society rallied for political reform and a new, more democratic constitution that was eventually promulgated in 1997, which became known as the Peoples Constitution due to the unprecedented degree of popular participation that went into its drafting. One significant element of this constitution was its provision for decentralization, based on the notion that weakening the center and increasing the power of local government would bring about greater democracy and militate against efforts to accumulate power at the central level, such as had characterized absolutist and military dictatorial regimes in the past. In addition to mandating decentralization, the Peoples Constitution called for the passage of an organic law, the Decentralization Act (1999), to serve as a guideline for planning and practical implementation of decentralization. Under this act, a Decentralization Plan and Implementation Plan laid out a timeframe for the transfer of precisely stipulated powers and duties to various levels of elected local governments. However, in spite of the legal mandate for decentralization, the entire process has been hampered by the reluctance of the bureaucracy, and the Ministry of Interior, in particular, to relinquish its authority. Consequently, to date, decentralization in
During the period of the Marcos dictatorship (1972-86) in the
The LGC places importance on decentralization of power in two main areas. First, local government units are granted autonomy, and various roles and duties are devolved to them from the central government, including the following: agricultural extension and research, community-based forestry projects, health, hospital and other tertiary health services, public works and infrastructure funded out of local funds, school building, social welfare services, tourism facilities and tourism promotion and development, telecommunications for provinces and cities, and housing for provinces and cities.
Second, the LGC does not just call for decentralization of power to local government units in the localities, but rather also gives legal power to villagers organizations, the peoples sector, and NGOs as stakeholders in local development, concretely making them part of the mechanism for conceptualizing and drafting local development plans together with the local government units. In particular, the code specifies that there shall be local special bodies (LSBs), which are semi-autonomous, politico-administrative structures in LGUs that assist, recommend, plan, formulate, determine and oversee the implementation of development plans and programs in their respective localities (Villarin 1996: 39). Local special bodies include the following: Local Development Councils; Local School Boards; Local Health Boards; Local Prequalification, Bids and Awards Committees; Local Peace and Order Councils; and Peoples Law Enforcement Boards. The LGC also provides for NGOs and POs to have representatives as members of other local bodies, such as the Provincial, City and Municipality Councils on Culture and the Arts, and the Council for the Elderly (Villarin 1996: 40). Furthermore, although Filipinos are still waiting for the relevant enabling law to be passed, section 41(c) of the LGC also mandates specific sectoral representation in local government for women, workers and one of any of the following sectors: urban poor, indigenous cultural communities, disabled persons, or any other sector as determined by the local council.2 Finally, in addition to the above mentioned mechanisms, the code also specifies participatory mechanisms in the following forms: recall; peoples initiative and referendum; mandatory consultations and public hearings; and active partnerships (Fabros 2004: 176).
Similar historical experiences as in
Suhartos successor, President B. J. Habibie (1998-99), attempted to build and restore the democratic system in Indonesia once again by rehabilitating the Peoples Consultative Assembly (MPR) and Peoples Representative Council (DPR) at the national level, while transforming the power structure through decentralization from the central government to four different levels of local government administrations: province, district/municipality (kabupaten in rural areas, and kabupaten-kota in urban areas), sub-district (kecamatan), and village (desa). However, it is clear that decentralization has emphasized the district level, whether kabupaten or kabupaten-kota.
According to Law No. 22/1999, districts and municipalities are given full autonomy to manage a number of services and duties. As in a federal system, control over finances, the legal system, foreign affairs, defense and religion are retained at the center, while authority over roads, harbors and other areas of strategic national interest are transferred to the province, which functions as an administrative arm of the central government. Districts and municipalities are given authority over remaining functions, including health care, education, public works, arts, and natural resource management.
Later, in December 2003, Law No. 22/1999 was reviewed and revised, resulting in Law No. 32/2004, which contains three important provisions, clearly not all of which are positive from the point of view of deepening democracy. First, procedures for choosing local executives were changed from election by the local council to direct election by the people, both at the district/municipality level as well as the village level. Second, Village Representative Boards, which under Law No. 22/1999 were directly elected, became now either elected or appointed, and subject to the regulations of the district. Third, lines of accountability for district level executives were changed from having to report to the local council to having to report upward to the Ministry of Home Affairs via the provincial governor. In sum, Law No. 32/2004 reversed the course of decentralization set in Law No. 22/1999 by once again granting the central government greater control over local governments. Furthermore, one of the biggest challenges presented by Law No. 32/2004 is its failure still to include participatory mechanisms for the peoples sector in local governance. (Legowo and Djadijono 2007: 73; Ongla 2008)
The work of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in fostering popular participation in local governance
Community Organization of the
In 1993, taking advantage of new opportunities created by the Local Government Code of 1991 and the Urban Development and Housing Act of 1992, COPE and the Naga City Urban Poor Federation (NCUPF) (the PO federation with which COPE works in Naga), lobbied for the passage of Ordinance 93-
Sustainable Integrated Area Development (SIAD) Initiatives in Mindanao-Convergence for Asset Reform and Regional Development (SIM-CARRD) and BATMAN
SIM-CARRD, my local host in
Hailed by many observers as an important experiment in grassroots democracy, the Barangay-Bayan Governance Consortium (BBGC) traces its origins back to October 1997, when a meeting of nine Manila-based NGOs held a meeting to discuss how to capitalize on the inroads made through the 1997 electoral victories of many progressive NGO workers and PO leaders who had taken the big step of running for local political office. The nine NGOs, who went on to form the core group of the BBGC, agreed to develop a training manual on local governance, called the Barangay Administration Training Manual, or BATMAN. This name, BATMAN, soon became synonymous with the BBGC itself. From this starting point, the BBGC expanded to include 233 POs, NGOs, social movements, and progressive local government officials by 2003, carrying out interventions in participatory local governance all around the country (Villarin 2004: 8-10).
The BBGCs transformative agenda seeks to create empowered, sustainable communities, and the consortium has the following three objectives: strengthening the capacity of those previously excluded from the state to be able to participate in local governance; developing the capacity of local government officials to govern in a responsive and accountable way, and to use public resources to further advance popular participation; and organizing and strengthening the legally mandated local democratic institutions, and creating new power relations between citizens and the state. To fulfill these three objectives, the BBGC has three primary local governance programs: the Basic Orientation on Barangay Governance Program, which imparts fundamental knowledge about local governance and participation in local governance to local NGOs, POs, local government officials, and local professionals; the Barangay Development Planning through Participatory Resource Appraisal Program (BDP-PRA), which essentially facilitates the drafting of a bottom-up participatory local development plan; and a Training of Trainers Program for BDP-PRA (Villarin 2004: 12-18).
Before becoming the current executive director of SIM-CARRD, Tom Villarin was executive director of the Manila-based NGO KAISAHAN (Solidarity Toward Countryside Development and Agrarian Reform), which was one of the original nine NGOs that collaborated in developing the BATMAN training manual. In 1999, Mayor of the
In spite of the fact that BDP-PRA was executed in 17 villages in Surallah with great fanfare, the longer-term effects of the process need to be questioned. After Mayor Solivio failed to retain his position as mayor in the May 2001 elections, the spirit of participation began to decline (Iszatt 2004: 182). Perhaps this is not surprising, given that the entire endeavor had been started based on the mayors initiative in bringing in two NGOs from the outside to conduct processes with Surallah residents. Both KAISAHAN and BARRIOS were in effect invited by the municipality to complete a technical task. It is unfortunate that these two, and later, SIM-CARRD, after going through the effort to intervene in 17 different villages in Surallah, were unable to carry on working with local residents, who had begun to be empowered through their inclusion in BDP-PRA, to form POs or PO networks. In part, the inability to commit to working with a particular group of villagers on an ongoing basis is surely attributable to the lack of resources. Because of the absence of secure and sustained funding, NGOs such as SIM-CARRD find themselves to some degree having to work based on funder-driven exigencies. The decision of SIM-CARRDs executive director to pursue other avenues of work involving coordination with various organizations rather than deciding to settle down and conduct organizing work that could lead to more sustainable participation on a longer-term basis by the residents of the 17 villages in Surallah who had gone through the BDP-PRA facilitated in part by KAISAHAN should be viewed in this light.
Institute for Research and Empowerment (IRE)
The Institute for Research and Empowerment (IRE) was established in
IRE implements four main types of activities to carry out its programs. First, it engages in participatory critical action research addressing the condition of powerlessness in various communities. Second, IRE conducts education and training with people from the state, political, civil and economic society in order to disseminate critical ideas and alternative discourses, as well as for capacity building purposes with key strategic actors. Third, it produces publications as a means of articulating critical ideas and circulating them in society. Fourth, IRE is involved in advocacy work through policy analysis, dialogs and public hearings in order to reform public policy (Organization Profile of IRE
In the specific area of local governance and peoples participation, IRE is involved in facilitating the process of development planning deliberation (musrenbang) at the village level. Musrenbang is an officially sanctioned process whereby in theory, a development plan is drawn up based on input from individual villages. From the village level, the development plan is passed upward through the sub-district, where further prioritizations are made from among the plans submitted by all the villages in its territory, and then to the district, where final decisions are made about what projects from which villages will actually be supported with how much budget. The entire process tends to be viewed as not really giving rise to participation, insofar as the projects proposed at the village level are in practice often ignored and not funded, while the work plans of the central and regional government are given priority instead (Legowo and Djadijono 2007: 83). In spite of the prevailing dismissive attitude toward the importance of musrenbang as a genuinely participatory mechanism, IRE decided to get involved with local communities, facilitating musrenbang in a participatory and empowering fashion. However, according to a staff member of IRE, the decision was not made out of a belief in the importance of the process under existing conditions, but rather because IRE viewed it as an entry point to working with local communities over a longer term in order to build up community-based organizations capable of demanding the right to participation (Zamroni, 2007). In addition to its work with musrenbang, IRE has also been supporting networks of civil society organizations in rural areas. Specifically, during the time I spent with IRE, I was able to observe on several occasions activities with REWANG, an emerging civil society network in Bantul,
Peoples Organizations (POs) and participation in local governance
Considering the historically high rate of poverty in
The Naga City Peoples Council (NCPC) was formally established in 1997 on the foundation of the less institutionalized system of NGO/PO consultative partnership with local government, the Naga City NGO-PO Council. Today, NCPC consists of representatives of 13 basic sectors coming from 108 organizations. Its representation of the urban poor, senior citizens, labor groups, and people with disabilities is especially strong. NCPC engages with the local government at three different locations. First, the NCPC executive board works together with the city council and mayor in the areas of policy and programs. Second, the 13 sectors represented in the NCPC work together with the individual departments and officials of the city on projects and activities. Finally, members of the organizations represented by the NCPC serve at the village level on the Barangay (village) Peoples Council and work with the official Barangay Council on capacity building in various relevant areas (de
In the words of Naga City Mayor Jesse Robredo, the NCPC is basically a conflict resolution mechanism, wherein stakeholders are given better alternatives regarding public issues rather than creating opposition between and among them (Personal interview 2007). Elsewhere, the mayor has explained that the Empowerment Ordinance created the structure for an active partnership between the city and the people of Naga in formulating, implementing and evaluating the city governments policies, projects and activities. Today, in some areas, NCPC is effectively co-managing the city. Specifically, NCPC has the power to appoint at least 25% of the total membership of local special bodies, which have the duty to monitor and evaluate how the government implements its programs and policies. It also appoints at least 25% of the membership of the city councils standing committees, which are responsible for drafting legislation (Robredo, Civic Engagement 2007).
Surallah: Where are the peoples organizations?
I visited Surallah in November 2007, eight years after the BDP-PRA program was implemented by BARRIOS and KAISAHAN, the former organization of SIM-CARRDs executive director. BDP-PRA was supposed to have been a participatory process leading to the drafting of a village development plan and the empowerment of villagers through engagement with this process. However, when I was in Surallah, I learned that after completion of the BDP-PRA in 1989, very little further progress was made in the area of active citizen participation in local governance. In trying to understand why this might be so, I reflected that although I was only in Surallah for a limited time, I saw no evidence of active POs there. My observation in this regard corresponds to one insiders critique made of the original BDP-PRA program itself: In Surallah, however, since there were no established POs, people merely participated as individuals without a specific agenda or collective representation (Iszatt 2004: 184).
In fact, the move to bring participatory processes to local governance in Surallah began not with the people, but with the mayor, who asked for NGO technical assistance with BDP-PRA training. Surallah Mayor Solivio clearly expressed his progressive convictions in an interview, stating, Good governance and good politics, these two factors, a leader must follow (2007). However, regardless of the positive intentions of the mayor, the absence of strong, organized POs in Surallah capable of making use of the participatory spaces opened up by the mayor would seem to have hindered the development of democratic processes at the level of local government in Surallah.
GAMPIL and peoples participation in Kebumen
In Kebumen District, Jawa, the civil society network being facilitated by IRE is called GAMPIL. IRE has been working to transform GAMPIL into a more institutionalized network of civil society organizations for the last three years. Its members appear to be fairly young, with most under 40 years old. In practice, the goal is for GAMPIL eventually to serve as an important link of the civil society sector to local government. At the same time, GAMPIL has also been approached by the business sector, which has shown an interest in supporting capacity building for GAMPIL members in order to enable them to better participate in engaging with the local government.
GAMPIL is receiving training in at least three different areas from IRE. First, it is receiving capacity building training in a training of trainers format, with the expectation that those receiving the training will train others in the network. Second, GAMPIL is being trained in musrenbang processes as well as participatory budgeting. A third area of training that receives a considerable amount of emphasis is training in social analytical skills and ideology. At all of the training sessions that I observed, I noticed a high degree of interest and engagement on the part of GAMPIL participants, resulting in high-spirited exchanges. Even though it has not yet been completely institutionalized, GAMPIL is already recognized by the local government as a legitimate partner.
The project funding IREs involvement with GAMPIL will come to a close at the end of 2008, and GAMPIL will very possibly be left to fend for itself if IRE is compelled to withdraw from Kebumen. Nevertheless, because of the efforts made to build up GAMPIL as an institutionalized local civil society network over the last three years, it should be able to survive with the potential of being a sustainable mechanism for popular empowerment and for fostering peoples participation in local governance in Kebumen.
In this section, I intend to draw upon the information presented above in the findings to identify those factors that are most relevant for efforts to advocate for greater decentralization leading to democratic spaces for peoples participation in
From the legal point of view, the Philippine Local Government Code of 1991 is a far more progressive decentralization law than Indonesian Law No. 32/2004 or the Thai Decentralization Act (1999). The reason for this conclusion is that while the Indonesian and Thai decentralization laws call for devolution of authorities and responsibilities to local government units, the Philippine law goes beyond this purely structural reform to also open up concrete spaces for the participation of civil society. This takes the form of provisions mandating civil society representation in local special bodies, as well as local sectoral representation (even though this remains unimplemented). Nevertheless, I do not wish to imply that progressive legal provisions are sufficient to give rise to meaningful popular participation in local governance. Indeed, in most local governments in the
If the law sets the framework for the potential scope of legitimate peoples participation, the role of NGOs is instrumental in realizing this potential. Comparing the work of COPE, SIM-CARRD (and the previous organization of its executive director, KAISAHAN), and IRE, it seems clear that all three have aimed to raise the capacity of POs to make greater use of the spaces available to them for participation created by decentralization. However, the results of their efforts have not been the same. COPE has succeeded in making the greatest gains, insofar as it has forced open the door to participation in local governance the widest. COPEs ability to do this in no doubt rests on its tight relationship with the organized urban poor in Naga and its legitimate status as a standard bearer of their interests.
COPE is known as an NGO that works on urban poor issues rather than governance. Working in the community organizing tradition, it sends organizers to live in urban poor communities and experience first hand the problems of the urban poor, while at the same time, building up solidarity linkages with them. Through a series of interventions, community organizers guide community residents to a more comprehensive understanding of their problems, and link these problems up to social structural issues. At the same time, they bring residents together to engage in collective action to solve their problems, and elevate the level of intra-community cooperation into a peoples organization. COPE began these processes in Naga City 22 years ago, and has been working with a great seriousness of purpose and continuity ever since then. Due to its holistic approach to addressing the needs of the urban poor, COPE recognized the importance of opening up a new angle of work to take advantage of the possibilities offered by the Local Government Code after 1991 and the young progressive mayor of
Even though COPE did not work directly in the area of governance, its long-term, committed relationship with the urban poor sector of Naga that it organized proved to be a great asset in its practical work promoting popular participation. This factor, a long-term and close link with an organized
Operating under a different set of institutional limitations in
While NGOs perform the vital function of providing support to POs and helping in the coordination between POs and government, it is still ultimately the strength of the organized peoples sector that is instrumental in bringing about the conditions for popular participation. Even if the legal context enables peoples participation in local governance as in the
The example of the NCUPF and its role in pushing for the establishment of the NCPC reflects the importance of POs not focusing their work narrowly on a single issue area. Even though NCUPF is an urban poor
In sum, my experiences in studying decentralization and popular participation in local governance in the Philippines and Indonesia have led me to conclude that the three most essential factors that could help facilitate local democracy in Thailand in the form of deeper peoples participation in local governance are as follows: 1) a legal framework that allows for the peoples sector to have genuine participation together with the local government unit in administering the locality; 2) NGOs that work closely together with POs, empowering them and developing their capacity while, at the same time, having a strong commitment and clear vision in regard to direction of work and goals; and 3) strong POs that are linked with other POs in a network and understand the importance of decentralization and working to create spaces for popular participation in local governance. Learning these lessons over the last year as an API fellow has given me the encouragement to continue my own work here in
 I would like to express my deepest appreciation to my host organizations in the
2 For an interesting account of the advocacy efforts and struggle relating to the yet-to-be implementation of local sectoral representation, see Cuarteros 2005.
3 Representation of NGOs and POs on this important board was subsequently expanded to five persons each with passage of Ordinance No. 98-
Cuarteros, Gladstone A. State and Civil Society Relations in Legislating Local Sectoral Representation. Policy Advocacy: Experiences and Lessons in the
Fabros, Aya. Civil Society Engagements in Local Governance: The Case of the
Halili, Flor Ve. Internal Vice President, Naga City Urban Poor Federation, Inc. Personal interview. 7 March 2008.
Iszatt, Nina T. Innovations in Resource Mobilization: Surallah Does it Fiesta-Style. Beyond Good Governance: Participatory Democracy in the
Legowo, T.A., and M. Djadijono. Decentralization in
Ongla, Olarn. A Study of Forms and Approaches to Decentralization of Power and Mechanisms for Popular Participation in Local Administration. Presentation to Institute for Research and Empowerment,
Organization Profile of IRE
Patiño, Patrick I. Local Politics Transformation and Continuity (Case Study on
Robredo, Jesse M. Civic Engagement in Policy Development at the Local Government Level: The Experience of
SIAD Initiatives in
Solivio, Romulo O. Mayor, Municipality of
Sujito, Arie. Executive Director, Institute for Research and Empowerment. Personal interview. 12 June 2008.
Vicente-Angeles, Jocelyn G., and
Vicente-Angeles, Jocelyn G., and Rebecca Torres. Regional Urban Poor Programmes with a Focus on Training for Community Organization (The Naga City Urban Poor Sector Organizing Experiences from 1986 2000). Unpublished paper. n.d.
Villarin, Tom S. Finding Meaning in Local Governance Through Popular Participation at the Barangay-Bayan. Beyond Good Governance: Participatory Democracy in the
---. People Empowerment: A Guide to NGO-PO Partnership with Local Governments.
Zamroni, Sunaji. Manager, Research and Advocacy Division, Institute for Research and Empowerment. Personal interview. 26 April 2008.