Covid-19 will produce many changes in the way we conduct our affairs over the medium and long term. In addition to wealth and equity dimensions, the pandemic will produce some major shifts in the institutional dimension. A significant area will be the impact on decentralisation and the salience of regional governance.
Internationally, it is becoming clear that the competence and trustworthiness of decentralised institutions is crucial in the fight to manage the virus and protect the weakest. Germany’s relative success has lessons here. But the way decentralised governments have become involved reveals both pluses and minuses.
In Peru, regional governments have been assigned a large role in managing the regional impacts of the virus. The main vehicle is the ‘Covid-19 Regional Command’, the entity which the regional government should set up to implement oversight of efforts to manage the virus, in coordination with the Covid-19 National Command. Their executive powers involve budget disbursement, the provision of proper infrastructure to treat Covid-19 patients, and the development of prevention strategies. They have no punitive powers.
The National Command encourages regional governments to construct their own machinery. Given the importance of regional differences in the nature of the challenges posed by the virus, this is a good thing, and the degree of agency encouraged may help with the political economy of developing local government. But this depends on what actually occurs.
While the National Command is comprised of public sector representatives (plus a representative of private clinics), at the regional level some governments are facilitating consensus building and collaboration with civil society. Each Command has the authority to coordinate with whichever organisation/association/institution it deems relevant for Covid-19 purposes. Thus Arequipa has invited congresspeople, the ombudsman and the Red Cross to join their command. Madre de Dios has recently announced the incorporation of FENAMAD, the chief indigenous federation in the region, following their claim for greater attention. Apurímac, on the other hand, has kept command members to the minimum. Cuzco has done the same.
As we mentioned last week, some regions have invited the military to lead the organisation; we mistakenly implied that mining corporations were also sometimes included. This is not the case. However, such corporations are happy with the role played by the military and police, for the promise of maintenance of order which they bring.
On the negative side, there is the danger that ill-equipped local governments may over-rely on the private sector, and in particular the larger corporations, thus furthering an unhealthy political economy wherein the private sector substitutes for the state. In Moquegua, for example, the Regional Command has asked Southern Peru Copper to support it with sanitising operations. See the report which contains pictures showing the awe-inspiring and tank-like vehicles from Southern which are spraying the streets.