This weeks’s deliberations at the City Council has placed the Ugnayan sa Barangay, a program under the City Mayor’s Office, under scrutiny.

According to its program manager, the program is intended to strengthen City Hall’s links with the barangays. It reportedly had a P31 million budget for this year, which according to an expose by opposition Councilor Jimbo Maristela, was spent in one fell swoop during the first quarter of the year, mainly for the purchase and distribution of rice.

Maristela claimed the rice distribution was used for political campaigning during the elections. City officials have denied the accusation, pointing out that the rice purchases followed audit regulations and that the utilization of the funds was justified and above board.

Regardless of the flak being received by the current administration on social media over this controversy, it is a matter properly under the jurisdiction of the Commission on Audit to probe and evaluate.

Maristela’s expose, however, raises important concerns about policy and how the city governments should “ugnay” or link with the barangays and capacitate them, as it vows to do. What has been missing in the explanation and justification so far made by City Hall officials is the overarching rationale of the Ugnayan sa Barangay program.

There is a huge disconnect between the objective of empowering barangays and handing out rice as doleout to random constituents. Such unclarity of purpose lends credence to observations that the program is a mere budget item intended to empower not the barangays but instead the sitting administration who may use the funds for leverage.

With practically its entire budget allocated for rice distribution to random beneficiaries, the Ugnayan sa Barangay has no funding set aside for actual capacity building. A crappy program design as it is, it isn’t even clear if this important component is covered by other programs of the city government.

The City Council last week approved a supplemental fund that set aside a fresh P20 million funding for the Ugnayan program. With what has happened so far under this program, it should be incumbent upon the City Council to perform its mandated oversight function on the program.

With the recent elections just passed, it is an opportunity for the members of the City Council to set aside partisan political considerations and contribute to the crafting of more robust interventions and initiatives that will really capacitate the least empowered sectors of our community. More than providing rice and influencing political decisions in the barangays, such funding resources could be utilized for such noble intentions.

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