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8 days to go, let’s act

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With a scant eight session days to go, Congress has much it can do. Let’s hope it acts, as there’s been too many bills pending for too long.

My interest, of course, is business and the economy because these underpin everything else and, hence, are what I consider the most important for the government, all branches, to focus on to give Filipinos a decent life. Filipinos can only have a decent life if they aren’t poor. They can only be not poor by having an income. Jobs, either in a small personal business or working for someone, are the only way to provide that income. So an 8-day focus on job- and income-creating bills is what Congress should do.

What then should take precedence? The first is the easiest to pass: a law to create a Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT). Both chambers of Congress have passed it on third and final reading so it only needs the bicameral committee to reconcile the conflicting provisions and send it to the plenary for ratification. But the problem is the President. He’s not in favor of it. Why, I cannot possibly understand. It’s a most unusual reversal of positions, where Congress wants something but the President doesn’t.

Information technology (IT) will dictate human lifestyles, drive industries and shape societies in the 21st century. Opportunities for growth and development abound for an economy that is IT-ready and has implemented the policies, systems, and environment to attain that success. That needs a superbody that can boldly oversee the orchestration of efforts, by both the state and private entities, to attain the vision in a sector as critical as IT.

Already it’s been one of the most successful sectors of our economy in the past decade, with revenues growing at an annual average of an incredible 37 percent. The sector currently employs more than 600,000 people from a little over 100,000 workers in 2004, none a decade before that. Outsourcing alone increased its importance to the economy dramatically from just 1.4 percent of GDP ($1.3 billion) in 2004 to almost 5 percent ($10.9 billion) in 2011. By 2016, it is targeted to reach $25 billion, or nearly 8 percent of GDP. It is now the country’s third largest source of dollars, after electronics and OFWs. But as local value added in electronics is only around 30 percent, it would be the second largest after OFWs.

It is larger than tourism and mining, and it has created more higher-paying jobs than agriculture and retailing. These sectors have departments looking after their interests. IT does not.

Yet IT is ever more dominating the world. There’s no simple On/Off switch anymore, you need a menu just to set the alarm clock to wake up to this incredible, new world. The Philippines can be a leader in it. The people have the proven skills, early success has been attained, but the complexity and competition will lead to eventual failure if the full attention that a Cabinet-level, adequately funded and supported department can provide isn’t there. The Department of Science and Technology is doing a good job keeping it all together, but the future is bigger than the DOST can handle. It has other, also important, things to do.

There’s a secondary reason to do so that’s close to the President’s heart: eliminating corruption and providing better government services to his bosses. A DICT can do that. Computerization of government services is inevitable, and happening. But there is need for a master plan of coordination and integration, of commonality of systems and processes. A DICT is needed to do that.

I agree that we have too many departments and agencies, but this one is so, so important that it should be an exception. Mr. President, this is where the future for the Philippines lies. Take it there. Sign the DICT bill into law. Congress, send it to him. A department needs to be created.

There are a number of other bills that should go through before the end of the 15th Congress (or before the start of the campaign period), but with little time, priority must be given to just a few. Let me expound on three: the antitrust bill, the Anti-Money Laundering Act amendment (third round of amendment which proposes to increase the number of predicate crimes and institutions covered by Amla), and the antismuggling bill.

Anyone conducting an honest business, or wanting to, wants fair competition. Ever since the Marcos days (and maybe before; I wasn’t here) favorites have been given advantage. Personal influence, not competence, has won jobs or sold products, has even captured markets. It has distorted the marketplace in many areas. Worse, it has deterred business; you won’t enter a market where someone has unfair advantage. Filipinos don’t get jobs. We need an antitrust law to more rapidly expand the economy.

Then there’s the Anti-Money Laundering Law. Simple enough: If we don’t amend it, we get downgraded to the “dark gray” list. Then try and move your money around. Try and exist in this highly globalized world. Much of Philippine business with the world will grind to a halt.

As for smuggling, we’d all love to get our products cheaper, grab a bargain. But what sort of society will that create? One where there are no Filipino businesses because they can’t fairly compete, where government has even less funds to build schools and roads and hospitals, and pay decent salaries because proper taxes and duties aren’t paid. And then there’s the moral issue: It’s dishonest. Here’s a bill the Church should come out in massive support for. Let’s stop the cheats.

Four bills, eight days. It’s not asking too much, it can be done. Let’s do it.


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Tags: column , congress , economic growth , information technology , Peter Wallace



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