Thursday, 16 February 2012

National government or practical government?

Business Mirror

FOR some 20 years, there have been intense and sometimes heated discussions about changing the government in the Philippines from a three-branch system to a two-branch parliamentary form.
There are valid arguments on both sides of the issue. However, I think the pro-parliament idea that a change would be the economic magic bullet is a logical extension that goes too far.

To argue that under a parliament, legislative gridlock is diminished may not be totally accurate, either. Under the current presidential system, gridlocks either work themselves out or do not. Presidential-system proponents would say that if the legislature cannot get a consensus, perhaps that law should not be implemented. And if Thailand is any example with its governments lasting an average of 18 months, new parliamentary elections are a formidable gridlock breaker.

Can you imagine a Philippine election every other year?

If history is any example, the Philippines operates under a quasi-parliamentary system as the sitting president usually has very strong control of the House of Representatives. The Philippine Senate acts as a check and balance to the House of Representatives.

In most parliaments, one party usually does not get enough votes to have a majority government and, therefore, must form a coalition government with other parties. These coalition partners act as the “check.”

It would be interesting to see if the Philippines under a parliament could form strong party loyalties that would support particular agendas rather than merely moving in the direction the financial winds from the prime minister’s funding blows.

There are two major responsibilities of the government. The first is to create policy and the second is to implement that policy. The proper and effective management of these two duties create the net outcome.

However, the Philippine government has been criticized on both accounts for decades and perhaps the results prove the allegations. The thrust then has been to think of ways to change the structure of the government in hopes it will lead to a better system for policy creation and implementation. So, some have looked to other nations that have a different form of government and concluded that a parliamentary system must be the positive variable that the Philippines lacks.

But is a parliament the correct variable to look at? Both Germany and Bangladesh are parliamentary. Both Indonesia and Rwanda are presidential.

Here is a list of what most would consider successful economies: Brazil, Germany, Switzerland, Australia, Malaysia, Russia, the US, Canada and India.

They are part of a minority of 24 nations that have a common trait that is neither the presidential or parliamentary system. However, they represent 40 percent of the global population. The one common characteristic of their governmental system is that they are all federal republics.

Federalism is a system based upon democratic rules and institutions in which the power to govern is shared between national and provincial/state governments.

When the national government creates and implements specific and detailed policies and rules, it assumes a one size fits all approach.

The Philippines “Local Government Code of 1991” (LGC) was passed to give “political subdivisions of the State…genuine and meaningful local autonomy to enable them to attain their fullest development…as…more effective partners in the attainment of national goals.”

Notice the language of “partners in the attainment of national goals.” The proper implication would be the national government sets the goals, the local government figures out how to do it and the national government monitors the local performance. The national government should also act as final arbitrator and check for disputes and abuses by the locals.

But the national government has violated the spirit if not the letter of the LGC.

It has issued specific and detailed policy and rules and then forced the locals to conform by using monetary incentives/disincentives.

Illegal logging may be rampant in one or more areas but a nationwide moratorium is imposed. One size fits all.

The core argument of the anti-federalists is that locals are not capable of implementing sound policies for financial and expertise reasons. There are great inequalities between provinces in terms of economic base and conditions. They say that what is necessary is to strengthen and improve the national government.

The pro-federalism group counters that people are more responsive to the local government and that federalism promotes innovation. Muntinlupa City banned plastic bags. The ban is annoying and burdensome, but it is giving positive results. The national government could have never done this efficiently or effectively.

“Imperial Manila” has been always been problematic and efforts to improve its performance are meager. There was a good rational for the Local Government Code. It’s reasonable to wonder what might have happened if it had been fully embraced.

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