11 October 2006

Emerging storylines: Bicol poverty series (5)

NOTE: Today, I will wrap up the six-part series analyzing results of the data on local poverty released recently by the NSCB and their relevance to local governments in Bicol region.

WHAT CAN be inferred from the data presented in the previous posts? Offhand, the following storylines have emerged:

1. It is not just about money; rather, it is more about how financial resources are mobilized and deployed to attain developmental ends. For instance, if it were only about money, Masbate City should have the least number of poor households, but it does not. Among provinces, Catanduanes is spending around 60% more than Camarines Norte, but their poverty incidence is almost equal.

2. Strategy of focus improves provincial government’s capability. If a provincial government decides to focus on helping its constituencies in greater need, which is its raison d’etre anyway, it can increase income per capita by almost 50% (as in the case of Albay).

3. Slower, more balanced pace of urbanization means more equitable distribution of opportunities. This is shown in the case of Catanduanes and Camarines Norte which are doing better both at provincial and municipal levels.

4. Poverty gap is usually wider when provincial governments are at odds with their city counterparts, with rural population at the losing end. The case of Masbate and Camarines Sur illustrates this. For instance, the
2002 COA audit report particularly called the attention of the Camarines Sur provincial government for spending P3.8 million in infrastructure projects in Naga City, which is outside its jurisdiction, during the year. This represents an opportunity cost for the rest of the province – certainly one of the reasons behind their 33 percentage point poverty gap (Camarines Sur’s 51.48% vs. Naga’s 18.91%).

5. Population size matters. Camarines Sur and Albay have over a million population each; they also have the highest absolute number of poor households. By comparison, Camarines Norte and Catanduanes have, at most, half of the former’s population. Not only do they have lower poverty incidence; they also have a significantly lower number of poor households.

6. Good governance matters too. The three Bicol cities (Naga, Sorsogon and Iriga) which have joined the
Public Governance System (PGS) initiative of the Institute for Solidarity in Asia (ISA) are the three best performing cities in the NCSB study. Clearly, good governance not only matters; it also pays.