We Need GovTech
For most Filipinos, the process of obtaining any license or permit for personal use or business purpose requires going to a government office or local government unit, manually filling out a form or forms, lining up in an office (only one if you’re lucky; many permits require multiple queues in different offices), paying cash, and waiting for your license or permit to be released. In many cases, you may also be required to bring supporting documents from other government agencies stamped “certified true copy” to verify your identity and personal or corporate details. Aside from the time needed to queue up in government offices, think of the amount of time and energy consumed in traveling to and from different government offices from your home or place of work. Think of the amount of traffic that alone generates.
But what if we could make some or even most of these processes as simple as ride-hailing your car or motorcycle, or ordering your food or grocery delivery or online shopping, or booking an airline ticket? In most of these processes, you know exactly what you’re buying, how much it will cost, and more importantly, when it will be delivered. Oftentimes, you’ll even know at what stage your order is in the process by showing you where your ride or food delivery is on a map, or where your order is on a timeline. You’ll be notified either on your phone or laptop (more often your phone) all the way down to actual arrival time. And you’ll be able to pay for these services online or by using digital wallets.
The technology which makes all this possible already exists. So why don’t we try to apply this to as many government licenses and permits as possible? Think of the time and effort saved, the traffic it reduces, and the convenience we all gain. It’s understandable that some processes will always require a personal appearance (say, passports) but most can probably be run online. Our goal should be to have licenses and permits applied and paid for anytime and anywhere.
With the government using a reduced workforce and on some form of lockdown (just like the rest of us), now would be a good time to have a concerted effort to move online. Over the last few months, we’ve all had to get used to working online and virtually in meetings. So it just makes sense to push this digital transition further by including transactions and processes.
Finding solutions may not be as difficult as you imagine. To begin with, maybe government need not build all the solutions on its own or acquire, maintain, and upgrade the necessary hardware and software. It can enter into something similar to a software-as-a-service system or a subscription or pay-per-use system with suppliers who will take care of managing the hardware and software requirements. It will save the government the capital expense and the necessity of bidding out equipment procurement. It will also basically outsource the maintenance and continuous software upgrades to competent suppliers.
There are many obvious benefits to automation. Aside from the convenience to customers (us!), an agency or city will know how fast or slow its processes take and introduce improvements. It will be able to keep better track of applications and approvals. As it receives online payments, agencies will be able to keep better track of their cash and reduce opportunities for corruption. More importantly, it will give customers a clearer picture of when their applications will be acted upon and approved or disapproved.
This greater transparency will be welcomed by citizens (as I am sure it may be by many agencies and cities). It could lead to higher customer satisfaction. Time-stamping all transactions would also provide the basis for accurately measuring the real speed of government agencies in terms of processing time. The improvements may even have a direct impact on our annual Ease of Doing Business rankings measured by the World Bank-IFC.
Finally, the Anti Red-Tape Authority could maintain this as a scorecard for agencies and LGUs, to see if we are indeed making headway in the battle against red tape.
Guillermo M. Luz is former private sector co-chair of the National Competitiveness Council.
Business Matters is a project of the Makati Business Club ([email protected]).
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