E-Governance and Open Access

BYTES - Lito Villanueva - The Philippine Star

They say it takes a village to raise a child. In almost the same way, it takes a nation to spur change. To further push our vision of a financially inclusive, digital economy, the laws of the land should greatly help the fintech industry in doing so.

Our dream is for the Philippines to flourish and thrive in a cash-lite, digital-forward society, just like our neighboring countries are already doing so. Gone are the days of cash-dependent transactions, paper-centric processes, and slow and inefficient services – it is time to adapt and catch up, and with the Marcos administration set on ramping up the digitalization of the government, we are on our way.

This government’s efforts toward digitalization are in line with our vision and the Eight-Point Socioeconomic Agenda, which includes eliminating red tape in government processes, and digitizing and centralizing important government data. What we need now is a financial ecosystem that is built on transparency, hinged on efficiency, strengthened by convenience, and takes pride in accountability. I believe that the proposed E-Governance Act will help us achieve this, by ensuring quick and efficient services that will spur the safe, secure, and convenient digital economy all Filipinos deserve to participate in.

What is the proposed E-Governance Act of 2022? This would mandate the government to implement an “integrated, interconnected, and interoperable information and resource-sharing communications network” that would connect all national and local government units. This communications network will act as an internal records management information system, a centralized information database, and open digital portals for the delivery of public services.

Using the power of digital infrastructure, information technology, and communications technology, traditional paper-based workflows and processes will now be turned to digital, making everyone’s lives easier, more efficient, and more transparent. It’s about time that the delivery of public services should be seamless and secure. With this measure, government officials and citizens will experience firsthand how technology and digital innovations can improve their daily quality of life and give them the ease and peace of mind they deserve.

Almost everything is done online nowadays – shopping, medical consultations, bill payments, and even live events. Shouldn’t basic public services follow suit?

The COVID-19 pandemic showed us how critical digital is. Unable to leave our homes during the lockdown, completing basic tasks like paying bills, buying medicines, and withdrawing cash were almost impossible for millions of Filipinos, especially those in far-flung regions. The pandemic truly highlighted the painful and large gaps in our society, especially in the delivery of government services around the country. Even prior to the pandemic, applying for a government ID or renewing your passport was a burden to the general public – inaccessible locations, understaffed and packed offices, long queues, expensive fees, lack of online resources, delivery delays, and a heavy dependence on physical appointments.

With the E-Governance Law in effect, a digitized version of the government will prevail. The proposed E-Governance Roadmap will be spearheaded by the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) led by a visionary and an e-governance champion, DICT Undersecretary Dave Almirol, who harmonizes and rationalizes the digital assets of the bureaucracy and fully participate in this technologically-advanced economy. Once passed and signed into law, it would also encourage digital and tech experts and professionals to join the government with compensation that would be at par with the private sector. Linkages between agencies will be quicker, and information will be more easily accessible to citizens. Database-building, inter-agency coordination, open resource-sharing, and clear inter-regional communication… The possibilities are endless.

The E-Governance Act would also create the Philippine Infrastructure Management Corp., which would ensure the proper and efficient management of our ICT assets. The body will also be in charge of educating the masses and government officials on these assets. The law would also create the Integrated Government Network, the primary digital source of all resources, information, and data that can be shared to digital platforms across the government. These moves would greatly minimize delays and miscommunication between agencies, and promote transparency via reliable digital resource sharing.

The COVID-19 pandemic merely expedited the changes we knew we needed for a long time. As the country moves forward amid a slow but steady post-pandemic economic recovery, now is the best time to implement this measure.

It is already a clear priority for the government, as the Congress’ complementary Open Access in Internet Services Act has also just been approved by the House of Representatives on its third reading last December. The immediate enactment of the proposed law is key in not only supporting the E-Governance Act, but also adhering to the Marcos administration’s goal of promoting universal, seamless, and secure connectivity for Filipinos.

If passed into law, the Open Access in Internet Services Act would allow industry players to create a simpler and more efficient licensing process in all segments of the broadband networks, which will allow more internet service providers (ISP) a fair opportunity to operate their own networks. This would grant more underserved regions internet connectivity, which is crucial in fostering financial inclusion for all.  It would also provide a policy and regulatory framework for digital connectivity that will ease the outdated  legal obstacles that have stifled the growth of the Philippine internet for decades.

With the help of the industry and most importantly, the administration, we can quickly get to work on building a strong foundation for our inevitably digital future. How can we do this? By fostering a more responsive environment that is quick and adaptive to the people’s needs. This all starts with bringing basic goods and services closer and easier to the people, and the proven way to do this is through massive digitalization and progress.

Lito Villanueva is an award-winning thought leader on digital transformation and inclusive digital finance.  He is the executive vice president and chief innovation and inclusion officer of RCBC. Concurrently, he is the chief digital transformation advisor for the Yuchengo Group of Companies. He is also the founding chairman of Fintech Alliance.ph, the Philippines’ largest organization of startups and unicorns that collectively generates over 90 percent of digital transactions volume in the country today. He was recently elected global chairman of the South Africa-based Alliance of Digital Finance Associations.

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