Making the grade

DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco - The Philippine Star

Our government is unhappy over how Bloomberg and Nikkei rated its COVID response at the bottom of a list of countries. So NEDA made its own rating card.

The Bloomberg and Nikkei ratings are still useful actually, NEDA Usec Rosemarie Edillon said, “because we can learn from the experiences of other countries, specially how they were able to loosen their restrictions coming from a surge and what they did.”

But Usec Edillon appealed to the public to keep in mind that the rankings are based on comparisons with other nations, without consideration to specific, domestic circumstances.

I am not sure that’s a valid concern. The comparison assumes different circumstances across many countries and the result is made comparable through quantified  scores.

What NEDA calls domestic circumstances can be interpreted as excuses for failure. We were, for instance, late in negotiating for vaccine supplies, which affected our vaccination performance.

The homegrown scorecard called the National Action Plan against COVID-19 phase four or NAP Phase 4  has three sub-indexes covering infection management, vaccine rollout, and socioeconomic recovery, with each sub-index getting a possible highest score of three. Taken together, the highest overall score is nine. All of the government clusters involved in the pandemic response took part in the survey.

NEDA reported an overall score of 4.42 for September that rose slightly to 4.83 in October. In the sub-indices, infection management improved from 1.25 to 1.44; vaccine rollout from 0.99 to 1.29; but socio-economic recovery declined from 2.18 to 2.10.

Infection management should improve as we learn more about the virus. There are also new antiviral drugs coming onstream that have shown promising outcomes abroad.

We have complicated rules on vaccination. In the US, they have one simple rule: all adults 18 and older must get booster shots.

A good number of vaccine doses are about to expire and there are doubts the government can quickly vaccinate the remainder of the population in the rural areas where the capability of LGUs to implement them is limited. The private sector should be allowed to use the vaccines they bought, specially those about to expire.

Now we are told they are scaling down ambitious vaccination targets because they do not have enough syringes.

Getting the economy back on its feet is still a major concern. Tourism is a good example. The tourism department has done its part, making sure workers in this sector are fully vaccinated by now.

Travel restrictions at the national level have also been relaxed. But the LGUs in the main tourism areas like Boracay have insisted on rules they are not fully capable of efficiently implementing. That has frustrated domestic tourists who are just raring to wake up the sector.

Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo Puyat has called LGUs the weak link in the drive to encourage locals to travel and help save the tourism industry. LGUs, Sec Puyat said, should simplify.

“I already asked the hotels to help the LGUs. Kasi when the hotels get bookings, all they need to get is the vaccination card. And you know if they are coming from NCR. we’re already 100 percent first dose here, 94 percent are fully vaccinated. So we are saying you can take a look and not ask for the QR code any more.”

Here is how to simplify: Maybe the paranoid LGUs can just require airline passengers to do a rapid test upon check in. A negative result plus a card showing full vaccination should be sufficient for entry to Boracay, among other tourist spots. No more paperwork, QR codes or red tape.

As for foreign tourists, we are still behind our regional peers. Singapore, which doesn’t have the balikbayan market that we have, declared it would allow fully vaccinated passengers from North America to enter the Lion City without quarantine.

We have reduced the number of days fully vaccinated travelers from North America must quarantine. This is a  step forward, but NAIA still has their silly restriction on the number of international passengers that will be allowed daily.

Using common sense in formulating rules is what we need. However, common sense is a rare quality among our  bureaucrats. That’s our problem. That’s why we are not making the grade, even by NEDA’s metrics.

Oil prices

Rep. Joey Salceda reached out to explain why he and his ways and means committee voted to suspend some taxes on oil products. He told me that they considered the points I raised in a column last week.

Rep. Joey said they explored alternative policy options like targeted benefits, but determined it would be bureaucratically tedious and may cost as much as an outright suspension without the benefit of instant relief.

Rep. Joey lamented that, unfortunately, our bureaucracy has a bad track record in carrying out targeted programs aimed to help those who need help the most. He cited a number of recent examples, and I agree with him.

Targeting, Salceda explained, would require the kind of absorptive capacity, specially in the transport sector, that is unlikely to be possessed by implementing agencies. He particularly noted “the dismal rate of utilization of funds for Transport Service Contracting.”

Salceda cited DOTr and LTFRB’s Pantawid Pasada program. It was initiated with signed guidelines in July 2018, with target completion by December 2018. Only 69,000 beneficiaries have received their cards out of 171,000 intended recipients by January 2019.

Transport Service Contracting, another DOTr/LTFRB project, was initiated in November 2020, with target completion by June 2021. Salceda reports that as of May 2021, only 11,543 driver recipients out of some 36,000 have received their initial payout.

Then there is the DSWD Social Amelioration Program initiated in April 2020 for completion in December 2020. As of September 2021, Salceda reports that the funds have not been totally disbursed. Same thing with DSWD’s Unconditional Cash Transfers.

It is unfortunate we have to consider bureaucratic incompetence when making policy. Our bureaucracy has an execution problem. If only we have a more capable bureaucracy…



Boo Chanco’s email address is [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco. Follow me on twitter @boochanco

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