The time for promises is over
The primary definition of revolution is “the act or condition of revolving.” But it is also defined as “a complete change, e.g. in outlook, social habits or circumstances,” or “a radical change in government.” I believe President Duterte when he says he won’t stay longer than he needs to, but that he wants to break the lethargy and legal roadblocks to progress. He wants a revolution of society.
It is amazing to me that a country at the top of the heap in the ’70s could fall to near-bottom 40 years later; then everyone just shrugs their shoulders as though that’s an expected, acceptable thing. The public should be railing at the leaders who have brought the Philippines to this (low) point. What is abundantly clear is that the style of leadership and government machinery are oriented toward putting on a good show without actually doing much at all. It is nothing but a land of promises.
I have this sign in my office: “Bureaucracy is a challenge to be conquered with a righteous attitude, an intolerance for stupidity, and a bulldozer when necessary.” The Philippines needs a bulldozer driver.
Mr. Duterte has two major areas to address: the entrenched bureaucracy and a wayward Congress. We also have a dysfunctional judiciary led by a (no longer) Supreme Court. Congress’ constitutionally mandated independence limits the President’s influence, but the power of popularity and purse can achieve much. All he wants from Congress anyway is to be on the same page. Both Houses claim they have done a lot of work, but there are three different agendas when there should only be one. The President needs to meet Congress leaders frequently to build understanding and foster greater willingness to cooperate. They should agree on a priority program for the year and fix a timetable to achieve it in order to see action at a level never achieved before.
The bureaucracy is a mess, a hydra monster that has grown through the years with little attempt to control it. When it takes months to get a simple approval and years to get infrastructure projects started, you know something is wrong. The recent order by Mr. Duterte to decide within 15 days after which approval becomes automatic is good — but far from enough. And will it happen? As we’ve often seen in the past, orders are easy to make, enforcing them is another matter. The Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of Information and Communications Technology have been developing a software to speed up business registration at the local government level, where much of the delay happens. But honestly, local government units need to be forced to use it.
There is a need to review laws with two objectives: 1) Are they necessary? 2) Do they need upgrading and simplifying? The same thing needs to be done with all administrative requirements. Task forces specifically assigned this work need to be created in each department and given a deadline to recommend what needs to be done. Almost everything we try to do has been built into a complexity that staggers the mind. For example, more than 160 signatures are required to approve a power plant. Absurd.
Sen. Miguel Zubiri has filed the Ease of Doing Business bill that supports Mr. Duterte’s thrust to eliminate bureaucratic red tape and speed up the process of starting a business in the country. It would ensure that processing of business applications for micro, small and medium enterprises should be no longer than three working days; 10 working days for complex applications; and 20 working days for special types of businesses that require clearances, accreditation and/or licenses. This is what our lawmakers should be working on, with urgency.
The Philippines’ convoluted bureaucracy is a major disincentive for foreign investors. The stringent, complex and time-consuming business processing and licensing system must be streamlined if the government wants to attract more foreign investments.
The time for promises is over.
Read my previous columns: www.wallacebusinessforum.com. E-mail: wallace_ email@example.com
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