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Business

Cleaning house  

EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales - The Philippine Star

So here we are again, as fate would have it, about to proclaim another Marcos as president of the country. It’s surreal, as surreal perhaps as just about so many other chapters in our history. Truth, indeed, is stranger than fiction, especially in this nation of 110 million. Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s magic realism novels would pale in comparison to our long, storied journey.

But it is what it is, and we can only hope the next six years will bring our country to a better place.

There are so many things to do, but the first order of the day must be to really clean and rid the government of high level corruption, red-tape, political patronage, and cronyism. This is especially urgent now because we badly need revenues to keep the economy going.

For years now, the men and women of the Department of Finance have been cracking their brains on how to raise more money for the government to have more funds for education and social services.

Corruption

But alongside these efforts must be a serious fight against corruption. It’s no secret that the Philippines is losing billions to bribery and other corrupt practices by unscrupulous officials.

The Philippines is losing around P700 billion, or around 20 percent of the country’s total budget appropriation yearly, due to corruption, Deputy Ombudsman Cyril Ramos said in 2019, adding that the Philippines ranked the sixth most corrupt among Asia Pacific countries.

“We need to keep reminding ourselves how destructive corruption is, especially for developing countries like ours,” he said then.

The figure is equivalent to some 1.4 million housing for the poor, medical assistance for around seven million Filipinos, or a rice buffer stock that can last for more than a year, he said.

“With that amount, no Filipino would go hungry,” he said.

Corruption, as we all know, erodes trust in government and robs Filipinos of decent social services.

Corruption also impedes investment, with consequent effects on growth and jobs, as the World Bank said. Countries capable of confronting corruption use their human and financial resources more efficiently, attract more investments, and grow more rapidly.

Thus, it is important to rid our collection agencies, the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) and Bureau of Customs (BOC) of rampant corruption.

There must be continuous efforts to modernize these agencies to lessen human intervention--which makes transactions prone to bribery. Whatever happened to the lifestyle checks? How about implementing this more seriously with the help of the private sector?

Modernizing Customs

In the BOC, there must also be a serious fight against smuggling.

Today’s headlines named three ranking officials of the Department of Agriculture, five from the Bureau of Customs, and two local officials as among  “alleged protectors and smugglers of agricultural products in the country.”

Our law enforcement agencies must investigate this to really address the perennial problem of smuggling in the country.

For sure, this thievery continues because smugglers have their respective godfathers in the corridors of power -- from government officials, to lawmakers, and other wheeler-dealers out there.

Smuggling isn’t confined to the agriculture sector. There’s also the smuggling of so many other products, from medical supplies to cigarettes to luxury vehicles, and many other items in between.

Immigration

The Bureau of Immigration is another office notorious for graft and red tape. I heard that so many foreigners can still enter the country without full compliance to our immigration laws for as long as they know the right people in the bureau.

The new administration must look into this. Checks and balances in our airports must also be put in place.

Redundant offices, departments

These are just some of the agencies that need further house cleaning, but there are so many others.

The new administration must also strive to have a more efficient government by abolishing redundant agencies, offices, and departments.

As it is now, the list of government agencies and offices published by the Bureau of the Treasury is long -- all of seven pages. That’s a whole lot of offices funded by taxpayers’ money for a government that isn’t exactly the most efficient.

New taxes

And if the government wants to raise new taxes, there are so many other new and growing sectors – from e-games to luxury yachts.

The government recently revised its revenue projections upward to P3.633 trillion (15.3 percent of GDP) for 2023 and to P4.063 trillion (15.6 percent of GDP) for 2024.

That’s a whole lot of revenues, but the government just cannot  keep on slapping new taxes.

The incoming administration of Marcos Jr. must, therefore, try cleaning the bureaucracy of corruption cobwebs. Rody Duterte promised to do that, but many businessmen who have been dealing with the government say this did not happen. Others say it even worsened.

Can the new government do it? Will Marcos Jr. take on this fight? Will his Old Boys Club economic team succeed in moving the economy toward recovery?

Like you, I will wait with bated breath.

 

 

Iris Gonzales’ email address is [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @eyesgonzales. Column archives at eyesgonzales.com.

OLD BOYS

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