Hope to reality
The passage of the Ease of Doing Business Law (Republic Act No. 11032) that was signed by President Duterte on May 28 was an important first step to improving the Philippines’ business climate. Now, we all know that laws are one thing, and enacting them is another. But this time, it just might work. The key leaders involved, Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Secretary Ramon Lopez and Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) Secretary Eliseo Rio Jr., are committed. In talking to them, I saw that they are determined to achieve real progress.
They have one new thing going for them—computerization. We’ve had computers for many years now, but not sufficiently sophisticated or designed to make online transactions a workable way to effect business. And we didn’t have the DICT to pull it all together before. Now we do, and the department’s primary task is to serve as a central system for all applications and associated data from all government agencies, and to link them all up.
The fly in the ointment will be, as usual, local governments unable or unwilling to give up the lucrative practice of “facilitating.” With the system entrenched for decades, it won’t be easily overcome. Bureaucrats won’t certainly won’t like the zero contact policy that prohibits any interaction between government employees and the applicant. The only face you’ll see will be a screen.
Specific deadlines have been set for approval: three days for simple transactions, seven for complex ones, and 20 for highly technical applications. After that, approval is automatic (if you don’t get it, do let me know). No document shall have more than three signatories.
Local government units are given three years to automate their processes. Fire departments are given seven days to evaluate, and seven to inspect and clear office buildings. And you don’t have to buy your fire extinguishers from them. Wilcon Depot will be happy.
What I particularly like is that all licenses, permits, etc. must be reviewed, and all the unnecessary, outdated and redundant ones have to be canceled within three months. This is way, way overdue; let’s just hope it gets ruthlessly done. Coupled with this will be an anti-red tape authority that will get rid of red tape and accept complaints about it. The measure of success will be an improvement in the international ranking of the country. I can’t wait.
Lopez is even more ambitious; he wants just one form to cover everything required from all the different agencies, and one payment that the government will then distribute (so that you don’t have to pay each agency separately). This is a reality to be fervently hoped for. It would put the Philippines at the top in Southeast Asia.
Overseeing all these will be the long-winded Ease of Doing Business and Anti-Red Tape Advisory Council. Its first task should be to simplify its name. The council will be led by the Trade Secretary, with the DICT, DILG, DOF and two private sector reps making up the rest of the council. It will make sure everything in the law gets done, and propose legislation to improve the bureaucracy even further. I wonder if the politicians in Congress will give that the priority it deserves.
Government employees will be subject to penalty if they don’t act in time or don’t entertain applicants within the premises even if beyond working hours, or during lunch break (good for reducing that tummy). No fixers allowed.
Making it all work will be the DICT, who will be responsible for automating the systems all the way down to sixth-class communities with the necessary hardware and software.
So will it all happen? I’ve been around long enough now to not accept anything of this magnitude without a degree of cynicism. I’ve too often listened to promises that failed to be realized. But, in talking to Secretaries Lopez and Rio, I am convinced they are determined to make all these work. My fear has more to do with stuck-in-the-mud bureaucratic and local government officials who are not willing to change. Ruthless action is needed to force change.
Government officials, especially local government executives, must realize that the Philippines’ complex bureaucracy is a major bottleneck to attracting much-needed foreign direct investments. The government must make these changes in its business permit and licensing system if it is to attract more job-generating foreign investments and lift millions of Filipinos out of abject poverty. If the new system does get done, new job-creating investments will become a reality.
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