[Opinion] The impact of social contracts

I had to opportunity to travel from one municipality to another in order to listen to the testimonies from the people in the communities on the impact of social contracts as a tool in exacting accountability from public officials for improved delivery of social services.

The social contract tool is an instrument developed by the Iloilo Caucus of Development NGO’s (Iloilo CODE-NGO’s) in its project: “Institutionalizing Social Contracts for Transparent and Accountable Governance and Effective Population, Health, and Environment Service Delivery”. The tool has now become a technology in exercising transparent and accountable governance and in promoting ethical leadership among local chief executives and barangay officials.

The beneficiaries of the project were local governments in the Province of Iloilo comprising of Ajuy, Balasan, Batad, Bingawan, Calinog, Carles, Concepcion, Estancia, Lemery and San Dionesio. These municipalities have expressed gratitude to the European Union Delegation to the Philippines which funded the project after recognizing the significance of having an initiative aimed to improve governance and public service delivery.

One of the main features of the social contract tool is the citizen’s query or what they call in local language as “pamangkotanun” or “hinun-anon” sa banwa. This interactive discussion is usually undertaken during the annual general assembly of the barangay or municipal government wherein the elected officials are given the opportunity to report to their constituents and the people can directly ask questions to their local elected officials about their reports and on issues regarding projects, project implementation, delivery of social services, and budget plan and utilization of government resources.

The objectives of citizen’s query are to stimulate people’s interest in local affairs and on the role that they play in local governance; it also provide the venue to inform the people about projects and initiatives and how they can participate; it offers an opportunity for the people to clear out misunderstanding or misinformation regarding local government projects; and a venue for people to exact accountability to its officials.

The old and traditional practices in governance made local government resistant to the new practice but some of the municipal and barangay local governments initiated the citizen’s query after being mindful of the importance of fully disclosing the conduct of government affairs to its people. After the first conduct of citizen’s query, however, local government officials started to realize the long lasting impact of the initiative to its community and in uplifting the quality of governance.

The testimonies that I have gathered magnified the gains of the communities and observed positive changes. Numerous people from the communities shared that the citizen’s query has enabled them to solve antagonisms between people and elected officials for direct queries during people’s assembly was able to clarify misinformation. At the end it improved the line of communication between people and elected officials in the community.

It also enhanced people’s participation in the planning, budgeting, implementation and monitoring of projects. One the notable result can be seen in the planning process. For instance, the barangay plan before was only being prepared by the barangay captain together with the barangay secretary and barangay treasurer. Yet today, the process has become participatory after the barangay encouraged its people to form sectoral groups and assisted them in formulating sectoral agenda which can be presented to the barangay and in turn can be integrated in the annual plan of the barangay.

The list of positive impacts is long and is becoming more concrete each year. This is the reason why the local governments passed local legislations to guarantees the continuity of the practice as a necessary tool in ensuring transparent and accountable governance.

The use of social contracts can actually be replicated and adopted by other local government units. In Iloilo City, for instance, some of the barangays which has the noble intention of improving service delivery to people and enhance people’s participation in the affairs of the community can actually use the tool.

I cannot help but recognize the many concrete interventions realized by the late Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo on the area of governance. The use of social contracts can be considered as one among the many interventions in improving governance practices in the country. It is indeed contributory to the aim of Sec. Robredo to improve the quality of governance in the country by establishing the practice of participatory, transparent and accountable governance as the new norm in public service.

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