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IGR and the water crisis

The principle of Intergovernmental Relations or IGR is explained in academic literature as fundamentally the coming together of different orders of governments within a political system, through formal or informal processes, to work toward the achievement of common goals.

The concept of IGR is traditionally associated with federal systems. IGR processes have been described as the “lifeblood of federalism in practice.” But many scholars maintain that IGR mechanisms can and do play a key function in unitary systems with embedded decentralization arrangements such as the Philippines.

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Notably, for an IGR mechanism to work, the following elements must be present:

1. There should be mutual respect between the different levels of government. There must be an unequivocal recognition of each side’s authority and accountability.

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2. There must be an ethos of interdependence. Each side must see the need to cooperate and collaborate to achieve the intended goal.

3. The IGR mechanism must be a platform for civic participation. Hence, there must be space for civil society organizations to engage in the policymaking process as well as in the implementation phase.

IGR mechanisms are utilized to avoid redundancies, duplication, unreasonable fragmentation and ineffective amalgamation in both the policymaking process and in the delivery of public services.

This need for coordination and cooperation between different tiers of government is not unique to the Philippines. The growing complexity of government mandates means that roles and responsibilities between levels of government are no longer clear-cut. Responsibilities overlap, policy areas interact and many public issues cut across several governance competencies.

The Metro Manila water crisis exemplifies perfectly the complexity of public mandates today. Hence, it is foolish to rely only on the central government to address this huge problem. I am not belittling the gravity of the national government’s development and regulatory duties here, but there are aspects of the water crisis that require the involvement of other stakeholders as well.

It is plainly a mistake to see this problem as simply about finding the correct terms and conditions in government contracts. With an extremely large population and climate change, the water crisis deeply impacts the people’s quality of life and the country’s future existence. Indeed, there is an intergenerational component that demands the collaboration of the central government, local governments and civil society.

Citizens having a deeper understanding of the fundamentals of IGR is a very important requirement for a nation-state with a multilevel system of government. This is particularly more urgent for the Philippines because cooperation and collaboration by and between the central government and local government units have yet to be instinctively and consistently practiced despite the fact that IGR mechanisms can be found in the 1987 Constitution and the Local Government Code of 1991.

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The reality is, problems like the Metro Manila water crisis can only be properly resolved by resorting to IGR mechanisms. This way is not easy, but committing to this path can bring the changes to our political system we so desperately need.

The IGR way in basic terms is as follows: Local chief executives, pertinent members of the Cabinet, business groups and civil society organizations come together to deliberate and devise a comprehensive action plan as well as find alignment and cohesion in implementing that plan.

This is exactly the moment when common goals can be agreed upon, a timeline with milestones can be set, respective commitments can be penciled in, and sacrifices for the greater good can be equitably shared.

Illusions of needing a powerful hero to save us all will have to be set aside. And there should be no tolerance for credit-grabbing and blame-shifting. It will just be the coming together of citizens primed for honest-to-goodness collective action, in the tradition of bayanihan.

Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco, LL.M, is a nonresident research fellow at the Ateneo Policy Center of the Ateneo School of Government.

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TAGS: Government, IGR, water, water crisis
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