The importance of Arta (1)
As many of you know, I’ve been involved with the Anti-Red Tape Authority (Arta) since July 2019 as a director on its advisory board, and I’ve been impressed. It is a small team of fewer than 200 people under the able leadership of Jeremiah Belgica, supported by Ernesto Perez, Carlos Quita, and Eduardo Bringas. In its short three years of operations, it has done a remarkable job of transforming doing business with the government into a relatively painless affair.
Most operations in securing permits, licenses, and approvals are now online and simpler; speedier, too. The mandated 3, 7, 20—three days for simple transactions, seven days for more complex ones, and 20 days for highly technical ones—is being obeyed by most of the agencies we deal with.
Arta has created a business one-stop-shop (e-BOSS) where you go, physically or virtually, to one place to transact business, no longer hopping from one office, or worse, one building to another. There you will find a citizen’s charter that details the procedures and requirements you must go through to complete your application. Then the central business portal transports you into a fully online process, all within 3, 7, 20.
Despite this success, the Ombudsman recently called for the closing down of Arta on the grounds that this was the role of the Ombudsman as determined by the Constitution. Indeed, the Constitution does say that the Ombudsman shall “determine the causes of inefficiency, red tape, mismanagement, fraud, and corruption in the government and make recommendations for their elimination and the observance of high standards of ethics and efficiency.” The Ombudsman went on to say, “The office of the Ombudsman would appreciate if Congress can amend or repeal the Arta law, which is an unconstitutional law as it usurps or encroaches upon the powers of the Ombudsman.”
Yet in that same statement, in a justice committee hearing at the House of Representatives, and again in the Senate, admitted that his office had done nothing to achieve this in the past 30 years. Samuel Martires, the Ombudsman, said, “I must admit that in the past 30 years, the Office of the Ombudsman did not do anything with respect to this function of determining inefficiency and red tape in government. But it does not mean to say also that Congress should enact a law that encroaches on the constitutional powers of the Ombudsman.”
Arta, on the other hand, in just three years, has revolutionized doing business with the government by doing exactly what the Constitution and Republic Act No. 11032 demand it does. The law states: “if a government office or agency fails to approve or disapprove an original application or request for issuance of license, clearance, permit, certification or authorization within the prescribed processing time, said application or request shall be deemed approved: Provided, that all required documents have been submitted and all required fees and charges have been paid. The acknowledgment receipt together with the official receipt for payment of all required fees issued to the applicant or requesting party shall be enough proof or has the same force and effect of a license, clearance, permit, certification or authorization under this automatic approval mechanism.”
The Ombudsman, it seems, sees Arta as usurping its role. I, on the other hand, see it as complementary and supporting the Ombudsman in its role, helping it to do its job.
In the three years of Arta’s existence, it has received and acted on 11,279 complaints, and referred more than 500 red tape incidents to the Ombudsman in a little more than two years since Arta’s implementation. This shows the vital partnership needed by two offices against red tape. It would make no sense to dissolve Arta. The two should be working together, as Arta has no power to force an agency or a government official to perform the rules developed by Arta. Arta is, in effect, an arm of the Ombudsman that he should welcome.
His statement came out of a case that was brought before him. A complaint was filed by NOW Telecom, a telco, before Arta, alleging that the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) failed to act on its motion, filed in 2015, to extend its provisional authority to operate a mobile telecoms system and to assign the needed frequencies that had been requested. Arta established that, based on NTC’s prior approvals, the application was already complete but, despite this, there was no action on the application. Thus, Arta directed NTC to comply with the provision of the ease of doing business law in its directive on the actions to take when an application is complete yet action is delayed.
The law says that if action has not been taken within the prescribed time, such applications become automatically approved. However, NTC refused to state that it had already allocated the frequencies applied for other uses.
When the NTC still refused to act, Arta was left with the only option of filing a case with the Ombudsman. But Arta was unable to do that, since NTC had already filed a request with the justice secretary to arbitrate between the parties.
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