The Senate is considering giving the President emergency powers to shorten the time for government transactions for licenses and permits, and to even waive the requirements to secure some of these licenses and permits during the pandemic, through a special law. It’s a very welcome move in these calamitous times. Hopefully, much of this could be continued once we enter our new normal life. I’d argue that this can be most expeditiously done by using that law to expand the powers of the Anti-Red Tape Authority (Arta), which is under the Office of the President anyway. All that would be needed is to significantly enlarge its budget to be able to do it: This will be both cheaper and more effective than creating something new.
Instead of starting afresh, Arta is an existing entity that has more than proven its worth since it was created in May 2018. So best to use it. What it needs most is the ability to enforce the specific streamlining steps agencies must take, not just recommend as now. It should be mandatory for agencies to obey—or be automatically suspended or penalized under powers given to Arta through the President. Requiring cases to be adjudicated within the judicial system is a recipe for failure. The delays and excuses will ensure that nothing happens to violators, as history has proven.
The country’s World Bank ranking of 95th out of 190 economies in terms of doing business this year is an impressive 29 notches up from its ranking in 2019. Arta’s performance had a lot to do with this. Further improvement could be achieved if Arta had more power.
A National Business One-Stop Shop has already been established where a businessman can go online to one place, fill in the necessary form, then leave and wait for his approval of registration or issuance of a permit or license. That must be done within 3, 7, or 20 days depending on the complexity of the application. Eventually, it’s intended that this will be accomplished in hours.
To achieve this efficiency, it will be necessary to interconnect all departments and agencies and link them to all issuing authorities. This will be accomplished through a Central Business Portal, which is already under test and will be launched on Nov. 16. It is a good first step, but putting fully in place the major reforms that must be done is a complex process that requires a comprehensive system. To do it within the very short time left of the President’s term will need outside assistance from those who’ve done it before. So bringing in a private company through PPP that has the experience and expertise needed would make sense.
Arta has done well. In the past two years, some 4,000 complaints have been handled. The largest number of complaints I hear of are from businessmen with problems with local governments. There is a need for a massive training and indoctrination program of all LGU personnel. Arta has done some of this through a series of training workshops on how to introduce a Citizens’ Charter on the steps citizens need to make to conclude a transaction. It’s an area that, with expanded powers, could increase substantially, as only 51 percent of agencies have as yet submitted their charter. Arta needs expanded powers to force completion by all.
With the assistance of USAID, Arta is developing a national policy on a regulatory management system and the institutionalization of international best practices on regulatory reform that will help agencies streamline their bureaucratic system. In addition, with the help of the World Bank, Arta is pushing for reforms in the different government regulatory agencies so as to increase the worldwide competitiveness of doing business in the Philippines.
Arta has also been working with the governments of the United Kingdom and New Zealand to learn from them their experience and to seek their help in achieving system improvements. A series of webinars have also been conducted with countries that have successfully improved their regulatory systems—lessons that can be applied here.
There’s much more Arta has achieved, but I think this shows that the best way to rapidly reform the bureaucracy toward superior performance is to strengthen Arta with wider powers, rather than create a new, untested entity.
COVID-19 has decimated the economy. Getting it back on track quickly will be greatly assisted by a simple, efficient, fast bureaucracy. Arta, with more powers and funds, can do this.
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