Strengthening local governance is good governance

DIPLOMATIC POUCH - Neil Reeder - The Philippine Star

This year we celebrate 25 years of the Local Governance Support Program (LGSP) – Canada’s largest bilateral development project in the Philippines to date.  Strengthening local governance through local government units (LGUs) is at the heart of this program. LGSP initiatives have improved LGUs’ capacity in the areas of leadership, management, resource generation, participatory governance, and local economic development.

Canada was at the forefront of the decentralization process in the Philippines when the Local Government Code was adopted in 1991, when various public service delivery responsibilities were devolved to LGUs. This was when LGSP was born, and since then this program has evolved into a well-known brand of its own throughout the country. 

We’ve worked closely with the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) for the project’s various phases: LGSP 1, LGSP2, LGSP-ARMM and LGSP-Local Economic Development (LED.) In doing so, over the years we have partnered with more than 400 LGUs in the Philippines.

During my frequent travels throughout this country, I quickly came to realize that our LGSP collaboration with our Philippine partners is by far the most well-known Canadian development program in the Philippines.  Officials I’ve met with have highlighted how their LGUs had benefitted from the program.  As a result, I am proud that through LGSP we have been able to share Canada’s knowledge and expertise to contribute to the development of local governance structures and a generation of municipal and regional leaders committed to more effective, transparent, and accountable local governance.

LGSP-LED, the last iteration of the program, partnered with the DILG in designing and implementing plans to make LGUs more competitive and business-friendly. It has worked with 17 provinces, 17 cities and 100 municipalities in pilot-testing policies and regulations focusing on two main priority sectors:  tourism and agribusiness. Participating LGUs in the project reported having attracted a total of P55 billion in new public and private sector investments in infrastructure and tourism facilities, and having generated more than 26,000 jobs in the tourism sector, between 2011 and 2016.

Then, sadly, in 2013, super typhoon Yolanda showed us how gains could be quickly reversed. This prompted DILG to adjust its suite of tools to integrate climate change adaptation and mitigation measures in order to strengthen resilience and reduce disaster risks.

It is noteworthy that the private sector, represented by the strong network of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, has been a key partner in this project as well. As a driver of economic growth, it was imperative that the private sector not be left out in formulating development strategies at the local level.  By engaging the private sector and communities in pursuing local economic development, we have created a more favorable environment for business growth, investments and job creation. 

Looking back, LGSP leaves a strong and enduring legacy of LGUs and private sector actors that have gained a strategic vision of what constitutes an inclusive, competitive, and resilient local economy.

Canada is honored to have been part of the pioneering experience of shaping local economic development policies and tools in the Philippines which are now accessible to all through a newly-launched resource network.  Because of the visible advantages that a focus on local economic growth can bring, I am confident that these positive results will be replicated by more LGUs through strengthened partnerships with business associations, academe, and civil society, joining forces to pursue competitive and resilient local economic development. After all, strengthening local governance means good governance.

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(Neil Reeder is Canada’s ambassador to the Philippines.)

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