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Zero-based bureaucracy

/ 12:29 AM August 21, 2014

Zero-based budgeting makes great sense, and has been successful. The old days of just adding and adding without thinking are gone (and the corruption-prone system of reenacting budgets has been abolished as well). Everything has to be reviewed as to whether it makes sense, as to whether it is really needed, and is correctly funded. Anything new has to be challenged as to its relevance and need.

Well, I’d like to take it further, a lot further: ZERO-BASED BUREAUCRACY. Do we really need that department, that agency, that commission? Then, do we really need that form, that process, that information? And people, yes, we need to provide jobs, but not sinecures. The fundamental policy should be the least possible government needed to manage the country.

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Create an efficient, minimalist government and the private sector will rush to build businesses to provide more jobs for all those millions who are jobless, and to provide replacement jobs for those displaced government employees, at much better salaries.

Tie that into my proposed “Lawless Day,” to get rid of unnecessary laws and, boy, do you have a revolution. A country that will regain Asian leadership (lost under Marcos) in a solid manner, not the jobless growth of today, but real “trickle-down” and “inclusive” growth that encompasses the whole community, not just a favored few.

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Let me start with something simple (well, simple if you really want to do it) changes in the bureaucratic processes.

Why are 165 signatures necessary to build a power plant?

Why do we need 35 days to issue business permits when it can be done in just six days in Malaysia, two and a half days in Singapore, and half a day in New Zealand? Why do local businessmen need to go through 15 procedures to secure permits when their counterparts in Indonesia, Singapore and Australia can secure theirs in just three simple steps?

Here, construction permits are released after 25 procedures and 77 days. It is much simpler in Singapore where the process can be completed in 11 procedures in just 26 days.

It takes eight procedures and 39 days to register property here, compared to five procedures and five and a half days in Singapore, six procedures and 22 days in Indonesia, seven procedures and nine days in South Korea, five steps and 14 days in Malaysia, and just two procedures and two days in Thailand.

Why do container trucks have to be franchised in what are strictly private sector deals?

When was the last time you posted a letter? E-mails, texts and tweets have sounded the death knell. Well, the government is still operating in the twilight zone—it has a post office. Zero-based bureaucracy would fix that. Why do we need the National Food Authority interfering in the marketplace? A free, open, competitive market would be far more successful.

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All these, and many, many others can be reduced significantly through strong political will. Why do you have to renew your driving license every three years when every five years would be more than enough? Why do travelers need to go through four check-in procedures when these can be reduced to just two (implemented in Singapore)?

And so on. So much can be simplified or eliminated. Why isn’t it?

Then there are the departments, agencies, etc. I’d start with my idea (read my column “DICT is not addition,” 2/5/14). Disband the Department of Transportation and Communications, putting the transport side into the Department of Public Works and Highways and the communication side under a new essential for the modern technology world: the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT). And that fits essentially into the zero-based bureaucracy as all bureaucracies would be ever more computerized and, hopefully, simplified in the process. With a computer, you don’t need multiple copies, multiple signatures, multiple processes. Access to a centralized system will do it all for you. And at far greater speed, the years (yes, sometimes years) to get approvals will shrink into weeks, even hours. But it needs a coordinated, holistic, integrated system that a DICT can provide.

Another is to end the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). It has done its job—5.05 million hectares distributed from 5.37 million targeted. Any further extension will just add uncertainty about property rights for no real gain. Additionally, it has failed to improve the lives of farmers. It makes no sense to keep it going. We need plantations, too. Some crops need economies of scale; they need mechanization at high capital cost, to bring the price in the market down to what consumers can afford. And we have to make exports competitive so businesses grow.

There are many other government entities that could go, or be streamlined. The government-owned and -controlled corporations are a particular area to focus on.

Why does the Office of the Presidential Assistant for Rehabilitation and Recovery (PARR) need the approval of other agencies in the implementation of rehabilitation programs? The PARR must be freed from the bureaucratic processes and be given emergency powers to fast-track reconstruction and the accomplishment of its most difficult task: to put most of the Visayas region back on the map. Give people their lives back.

We are in a world that is changing so rapidly and so dramatically that the old concepts are dying fast. To adapt to it, to lead into it, a zero-based approach to the bureaucracy is what’s needed.

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TAGS: “lawless day”, Budgeting, bureaucracy, Department of Public Works and Highways, Department of Transportation and Communications, National Food Authority, Philippine government, zero-based budgeting
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