translated from Spanish: Emergency management as an expression of centralism

A road is cut, hills collapse, a volcano erupts, or events such as those of the last few weeks happen in regions and the centralism and shortcomings of political, administrative and fiscal decentralization in regions in the face of emergencies are bare. It has passed through all governments and will continue to pass as long as the subnational institutions facing them are not strengthened with regional management capacity. Why should a Minister of State or a special representative of the President of the Republic travel to regions to provide disaster or emergency solutions?
When a seremi, governor or mayor – seeking solutions – reports a catastrophe to its respective hierarchical higher level, it does not appear to be of national importance, unless that story is made by a minister or a presidential delegate. If most regional authorities are already an expression of centralism and institutionally represent the apparatus of the state, why is there a sense that in the event of an emergency the regional authorities self-censor and a new layer of centralism is activated Chile?
The closest hypothesis to an explanation comes from the institutional design of our bureaucracy. Indeed, our country has several layers of bureaucratic centralism, and the one with the least regional expression without explicit powers and powers is the one that refers to dealing with emergencies. In practice, there is no institution that has the real and effective capacity to provide solutions to the immense diversity of emergencies occurring in regions. Based on this argument, there are two reasons for the need to radically decentralize its management.

1.- The gap between time and timely response to an emergency: Precious minutes and hours between the reaction of a regional and a national authority are lost. The first one confronts it is the regional or local authority, but it is at that very moment that this authority enters a complex and diffuse institutional framework involving different levels of government and sectors of the state. In this trade-off, the national authority almost always makes the same decision that a regional authority could have taken, without having to waste precious hours asking a minister of state about the best solution to a regional problem. This produces two effects. The first is the minimization of regional authority, and as a consequence, a symbolic strengthening of political centralism, since it is transmitted to the community that “the one who cuts is the authority that comes from Santiago”. The second effect is on tax management. Almost always the cost associated with emergencies ends up assuming – in an important part – regionally, that is, the FNDR, the only regionalized fund that exists in Chile, suffers.
2.- The Common Sense and territorial knowledge to deal with emergencies. Already the scientific literature of fiscal federalism of the 60s and 70s pointed out that the one who knows the needs of the people the best are those institutions and authorities that are closest to them, that is, for the case our municipalities and regional governments. In general, national authorities do not know the history, customs and uses assigned to resources or factors associated with territories and are often linked to emergencies. Therefore, the national authority is not an actor prepared to make regional decisions, even less so when it comes to these cases.
There is an urgent need to strengthen the institutionality in charge of emergencies in Chile. It is not enough to have a ONEMI (national emergency office) that only coordinates services, even often demonstrating that it has zero legitimacy and authority in the face of other public distributions. What is required is to have strong Regional Governments and a Regional Emergency Service with administrative capabilities and effective fiscal resources that force it to become a leader, protagonist and principal responsible for the management of an emergency regions. Having ministers as emergency actors in regions, he only speaks of our entrenched centralism, which has a high political cost to regional institutions and authorities, becoming most of the time, highly inefficient for the citizens of the public.

The content poured into this opinion column is the sole responsibility of its author, and does not necessarily reflect the editorial line or position of El Mostrador.

Original source in Spanish

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