Sunday, June 24, 2018
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Government vs the common good

Exactly three years ago, I had to pay the Land Transportation Office P450 for new “tamper-proof” license plates supposed to replace all the plates of all motor vehicles on the road. Not that the existing ones needed replacement then; they were (and still are) nice and good, and could well last the lifetime of the vehicles they’ve been on. Yet the Department of Transportation decided that all plates had to be replaced, rather than just issue the new-series plates to first-time vehicle registrants. And so in 2015, it had everyone renewing their motor vehicle registrations shell out the not insignificant sum for the new plates—even if it didn’t have them ready.

It’s been three long years and I, along with hundreds of thousands (or millions?) of other motorists, have yet to see the shadow of my new license plates. We have effectively given the Land Transportation Office an interest-free 3-year loan that amounted to billions of pesos, given the 8.7 million vehicles registered in 2015. I spotted a news headline saying that the DOTr promises motorists their new license plates by August (of this year, I hope!). That’s more than two years after this administration came into office on the promise of change, and I still can’t understand why they couldn’t have made it happen much sooner. Could the people in the DOTr and LTO really be so inept as to be incapable of getting things done more promptly, in what should be an uncomplicated government procurement — especially under an administration supposedly known to crack the whip decisively? Too bad for them, but in my experience, many casual conversations with friends and associates indeed end up with that conclusion, and invariably add another adjective that also ends with the letters “pt.”

Remember the old early warning devices (EWDs), those triangular reflectors that everyone was required to buy years ago before they could register or renew the LTO registration of their vehicles? The LTO even had very particular specifications about those EWDs, as if tailored for certain manufacturers then. Some people obviously made a killing from manufacturing and selling those things, and the rumor was that certain LTO personalities themselves were involved in this business that the government had gifted with a captive market. And remember farther back, when everyone was required to buy two pairs of reflectors to stick on their vehicles—yellow for the front, and red for the rear—again as a requirement for registration? It was yet another instance when the government created a captive market for some lucky enterprises, something the LTO has been particularly good at over the years.

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And then there’s that exorbitantly priced “medical exam” that’s part of renewing one’s driver’s license. Last time I did, I literally paid P350 just to read out four letters on the wall, and nothing else. Most of the three minutes I spent in the “clinic” were spent waiting for them to write my receipt. My wife, who renewed her license the other day in a province-based LTO office, paid P250 for a similar experience in the adjacent “clinic.” These spurious “clinics” privileged to locate adjacent to the license renewal centers make windfall profits from a captive market, all thanks to the LTO under the DOTr.

This same department that built the mass rail transit systems deliberately did not connect them to the airports, and yet the LRT train depot is right beside them. A former transport official candidly told me that the taxi industry had successfully lobbied against the airport link. This is also the same department that at one point banned Uber and similar transport services from taking passengers at the airport, and to this date continues to make life hard for them, at the expense of the riding public.

How can one not feel that the government itself is constantly out to thwart the common good for certain vested interests, who one can only suspect of giving concerned officials millions of reasons to do so? And when called to task, some would even have the gall to say flippantly, “What are we in government for?”

When I see the government consistently uphold the common good, that’s when I’ll be convinced that change has truly come.

cielito.habito@gmail.come

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TAGS: government inefficiency, Land Transportation Office, license plates, Public transportation
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