Gov’t front line services must improve

- Boo Chanco - The Philippine Star

The bad quality of government’s front line services is perhaps one reason why trust ratings of P-Noy, Binay and Enrile fell despite all the fuss over “a GDP rate that will impress you.” Ordinary folks were not impressed… they haven’t felt any significant positive effect of government in their lives.

To be fair, there are very visible attempts to bring front line government services closer to the people. One can now apply for a passport, a certified birth certificate, NBI clearance and even a driver’s license at major malls. But more needs to be done.

The quality of government’s front line services is still quite third world. DFA can’t issue passports until three weeks after application and the lines for that NBI clearance can snake quite a bit even as applicants fall in line way before the malls open for business. There is no concept of service… neither the bureaucrats nor the government’s computer systems are up to the challenge.

In a country that is being kept afloat by over $20 billion of OFW remittances a year, you would think government will make it easy for our workers to transact business. That is just not happening. Here is one account of a friend of mine whose daughter works abroad.

“My daughter’s an OFW working in Singapore. Every time she visits, she has to get an OEC (Overseas Exit Clearance), a requirement before she’s allowed to check out of NAIA. 

“Before, she could get multiple OECs from a labor attache representative in Lucky Plaza in Singapore. Now she can no longer do that because it had closed down.  There’s just one other office in Singapore where you can get it but it closes on weekends and the lines are very long. You are also not allowed to make appointments online so OFWs have no choice but to queue.

“Here in Manila, there are all sorts of requirements before they will issue an OEC and even then, they can only sell one OEC at a time so an OFW has to go to the government office every time she has to leave.

“Another time when we went with our daughter to Singapore, she had to line up in the OFW counter in NAIA 1. But the line was so long since there were just three counters to service OFWs.  We almost missed our flight.”

I agree with my friend. This is no way to treat our OFWs, supposedly our new heroes or Bagong Bayani.

If P-Noy wants to create a positive impression on common people and not just impress economists who get excited over GDP numbers, he must make sure that government front line services are world class. Treat our people with respect. Stop wasting their time because their time matters.

Start off with a computer system that works across government agencies. Maybe we do need that proposed cabinet level department for communication and information technology to orchestrate the effort. Every top bureaucrat seems to want his own computer system, possibly because the money involved in acquiring hardware and software can be significant and so could commissions.

Why can’t government have an on-line computer system like what the local banks have? Take that NBI system for example. Why is it so difficult to have a system that can be accessed quickly from NBI’s remote offices in the malls? Why must people sacrifice a day’s or even weeks worth of work to fall in line and wait for a simple piece of paper that employers and embassies require all the time?

Again, for a country that survives because its workers go abroad to earn a living, why can’t DFA come up with a respectable system that makes it easy to apply for or renew passports? Why must there always be finger-pointing between DFA and the BSP printers on who is at fault for the delays in passport processing?

Why can’t we have a more painless way of obtaining those certified copies of birth certificates? In a world where such things are already done online, why can’t the Philippines, the emerging BPO capital of the world, make things easier for its citizens via the online route?

We need to acknowledge the efforts of DTI to facilitate business registration processes. I understand Sec. Greg Domingo has made this a personal project. But even there, it is still very much a work in progress. And the LGUs must also be made to actively participate in the effort to cut red tape down to encourage investors.

I chanced upon a local taipan at the Tuesday Club who has invested a lot in China. Some months ago, I asked him where should one invest his money now and he said without hesitating that the Philippines is the place to go. China, he said, is getting expensive and saturated. He also said that tourism in the Philippines is one exciting area for investors.

So he is investing in three star hotels, the type preferred by Chinese tourists. I asked him last week how he is doing with his new thrust. One hotel in Makati is under construction. The one in Ortigas is taking time. There are too many permits, he said, and that’s taking time.

Government must simply roll out the red carpet for any investor willing to invest in job creating industries here. While government’s regulatory role cannot be ignored, things shouldn’t take too much time because to businessmen, time is money. If they get exasperated, they will go elsewhere. We are competing for investor money with our Asean neighbors.

Given our need for OFW remittances and investor money to make our economy blossom, government must make things easy for them. Actually it should be basic for government to make it easy for all citizens to transact business with it.

Why not have the equivalent of a multiple entry visa for those clearances OFWs need so they don’t have to line up every time they have to come home? For that matter, our passports should have a 10 year validity rather than five years. Our driver’s licenses should also be valid for longer than the current three years. In the US, drivers licenses are good for five years. The idea is to minimize the number of times a citizen gets in contact with a bureaucrat and thus reduce the potential for nasty experiences that reinforce the image of a government that is inept and corrupt.

Providing fast and efficient front line services is one effective way of reducing corruption and supporting P-Noy’s Daang Matuwid. Red tape forces Pinoys and everyone else, to give a bribe just to get things done faster.

A survey of the National Statistics Office or NSO verified this link between corruption and red tape. Last Friday, NSO reported the prevalence of giving “pampadulas” in the form of money or gift to facilitate a transaction with a government office.

The survey results are based on the 2010 Annual Poverty Indicators Survey (APIS) which was conducted in August 2010. The APIS is a nationwide survey covering around 26,000 sample households. The survey is designed to provide non-income indicators related to poverty, and provides data on the socio-economic profile of families and other information that are related to their living conditions.

So there it is… make sure bureaucratic systems are designed to give fast service and there will be no need to bribe someone to get a license, a clearance or some government certification. That’s Daang Matuwid minus the hoopla!

Family matters

Norbert Goldie sent this one.

A guy walks into his local bar and says to the barman, “give me six large vodkas straight.”

The barman says, “boy you must have had one hell of a day!”

“Yep, I just found out my older brother is gay.”

The next day the same guy comes back and orders another round of vodkas. When the barman asks him what the problem is today, he answers, “I just found out my younger brother is gay too!”

On the third day the guy arrives and orders yet another round.

The bartender says, “Grief! Doesn’t anyone else in your family like women?”

“Yeah, MY WIFE...”

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco











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