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Simplify, simplify, simplify

/ 02:52 AM December 10, 2015

I wonder if anyone reads my columns. In “Give the consumer a break” (11/12/15), I pointed out that consumers pay double what they should for rice because of the National Food Authority and a foolish policy of self-sufficiency in a market where Filipino farmers can’t compete.

But no one has complained! Every Filipino eats rice. More than three million families are so poor they can barely eat, yet their staple costs twice what it should: P33.08 per kilogram instead of P19.80/kg. I don’t eat rice, yet I’m complaining. Why aren’t rice eaters complaining?

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There’s a well-proven precept: Markets work, interference doesn’t. What I’d like from the next president is a minimalist government, one that gets involved the least it can. The first thing to do is to take the government out of trading rice and sugar to prevent it from interfering in the market.

As Fidel Ramos said when he was president (a most effective one): “Government should not be in businesses [that] business can do.” But more than that, the government should not be imposing laws, rules or regulations unless absolutely necessary.

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In “A lawless day” (8/14/14), I suggested a day (a month would be better) where the executive, legislative, and judicial branches can meet and review the laws, rules and regulations that can be removed—and remove them. Politicians boast of how many bills they’ve filed, as Miriam Santiago did when she announced that she had filed 1,324 bills and resolutions, as though it were an achievement. She and the others are doing us a disservice. We want quality, not quantity.

No one should ever have to go to more than one department for any government transaction. The government machinery should do it all. A real one-stop shop, not just the promise of it, must be the goal of the next administration. And that one-stop shop should have the preferred option of being online.

Singapore implements one of the world’s most efficient business registration systems. Only three procedures and 2.5 days are needed to start a business there. Is it any wonder Singapore attracted $67.5 billion in foreign direct investments last year, more than 10 times the Philippines’ $6.2 billion?

An interagency task force has pledged to reduce registration of a business from 16 steps and 34 days to six and eight, respectively. This is far from impressive. Singapore’s efficiency must be the aim. It’s a fully attainable aim—if the government is IT-wired and IT-interconnected.

For instance, if my wife wants to order something from Amazon, only a few clicks of a button are required to identify the product and to confirm the order. Amazon knows who she is, where to deliver it, and how to charge for it; everything is worked out internally. A few days later, the product is on the doorstep. If Amazon can do it, so can the Philippine bureaucracy—if it wants to.

Taxes must be simplified, too. As a final step, the bill in Congress to adjust the 1997-set tiers needs to be passed now, as it doesn’t change arguable tax rates and only brings the rates to those intended in 1997. It’s an eminently fair thing you’d think a caring president would want. It’s the next president who should call for major reform.

Paying taxes must be massively simplified, such that you shouldn’t need an accountant to work out the complex forms and what to pay. Personal and corporate income tax rates need to be brought in line with elsewhere in Asia. If not, business is stifled, new business goes elsewhere, and Filipino workers move overseas, depriving business of the workers it needs.

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Another simplification concerns the Constitution. For the Philippines to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Constitution will have to be amended so everyone is treated equally regardless of the type of business or profession. The Foreign Investment Negative List must go, too. Simplify through equality.

And why do we need the approval of the Food and Drug Administration to import products from countries whose regulatory agencies more than match ours? If the US FDA says a certain drug is safe to take, I trust it. All the Philippine government should do is accredit reliable agencies elsewhere. To my knowledge, a Filipino body is not biologically different from an American or European one. That’s a reason Sen. Grace Poe is having problems confirming that she’s a Filipino when there’s no DNA difference.

Those are just some of the many achievable simplifications. Can we get the “presidentiables” to promise to achieve them?

* * *

In October, the United States warned its citizens “of the risks of travel to the Philippines, in particular to the Sulu Archipelago, certain regions and cities of the island of Mindanao, and the southern Sulu Sea.”

Well, I wish to issue a warning, too: Do not travel to the United States, not anywhere there, until they control gun ownership. As the more than 12,000 deaths by shooting last year show, you’re at great risk. As President Obama says, the unfettered sale of guns is “insane.”

Indeed it is, and I suggest that officials of the National Rifle Association be charged as accessories to murder. Go instead to New Zealand on PAL’s new direct flights. It’s summer, a perfect time to be there. There were six deaths by shooting last year. Even the police don’t have guns, and it’s a beautiful, relaxing country of gentle, charming people. Well, gentle if they’re not playing rugby. If they are, beware. It’s a nation with about a third of the population of Metro Manila that just can’t be beaten in rugby. They’re ruthless.

* * *

E-mail: [email protected] Read my previous columns: www.wallacebusinessforum.com.

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TAGS: Consumer, Fidel Ramos, National Food Authority, National Rifle Association, Peter Wallace, Philippine Bureaucracy, Rice Sufficiency, Sulu Archipelago, Trans-Pacific Partnership
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