Waging war on corruption (2): Red tape

Published by rudy Date posted on April 6, 2011

SECOND OF THREE PARTS

ON the first death anniversary of his mother Corazon Aquino, President Benigno Aquino 3rd called on the people to support his anti-corruption campaign. How exactly can Juan de la Cruz do that? The April 4 installment of this column suggested public-private monitoring bodies and stakeholder dialogues as mechanisms for constituent feedback, including integrity concerns. This second part of the article discusses what is perhaps the most extensive scheme harnessing the public to combat graft.

During this writer’s chairmanship at the Civil Service Commission in 2008-09, the CSC’s top priority anti-corruption program was the nationwide implementation of the Anti-Red Tape Act of 2007 (ARTA). By the end of September 2009, within the one-year deadline set by the ARTA and accelerated by AO 241, some 4,000 government instrumentalities streamlined, detailed and published in posters and booklets the procedures, requirements, fees and processing time needed to make use of frontline services.

That’s 18 agencies made compliant with the ARTA every working day for a whole year, including national government bodies, local governments, state corporations, universities and colleges. Their names in small print filled three and a half pages of a major newspaper. Their efforts enhanced services and reduced graft for millions of ordinary Filipinos transacting with the government every day.

One apparent result of that first offensive in the ongoing war on red tape might have been the improvement in frontline services and the decline in bribe solicitation reported by Social Weather Stations’ Annual Survey of Enterprises in 2009.

Helping the CSC prod and assist the 1.3-million-strong bureaucracy to comply with the ARTA were the Office of the Ombudsman, the Department of Interior and Local Government, the Development Academy of the Philippines, and the Presidential Anti-Graft Commission. And, most important, the Filipino people.

Clientele were consulted in drawing up each agency’s Citizens’ Charter of services and procedures, which set deadlines for bureaucrats handling every step in every process. The ARTA set penalties for unwarranted delays and also instituted public assistance and complaints desks and anti-fixer campaigns. Before the CSC chair’s removal by the Commission on Appointments at the end of September 2009, a task force including CSC OMB PNP and DOJ were getting ready to file the first batch of charges against fixers—many of them reported by the public to 0917-TEXTCSC.

The anti-red tape campaign got a further boost from an initiative of the Office of the President, the public-private National Competitiveness Council and the CSC. They worked with the local government leagues to streamline bureaucratic processes in 200 LGUs deemed important to business. Meanwhile, under the ARTA, agencies are required to subject their Citizens’ Charters and assistance desks to report card surveys based on clientele feedback, so deficiencies can be detected and corrected.

In her first State of the Nation Address in 2001, President Gloria Arroyo ordered the number of required signatures to be cut in half in government documents. In his first SONA last July, President Aquino launched his own campaign to slash paperwork and speed the way for investors. He would do well to use the ARTA in cracking the whip at cumbersome processes and recalcitrant bureaucrats.

The law not only penalizes tardy work, but holds heads of offices liable for inefficiencies and anomalies in their bureaus. For instance, if an official is told of fixers at his unit but does nothing about it, that’s neglect of duty, punishable on second offense by dismissal. Moreover, if corruption is proven under his watch, he could be charged with complicity if he never did anything to stop it despite being warned about it.

Besides feedback, the private sector can help agencies and LGUs streamline and explain procedures with expert advice on process engineering, time and motion studies, ISO certification, and customer-friendly signage. In government services there is no competition prodding agencies to be more client-oriented. But private firms have to compete; they can teach the bureaucracy a lot about faster service and crystal-clear information. On directional signs: it is hard to find offices even in a small government building, yet in giant malls with hundreds of stores, shoppers locate most of them using the directory.

Cutting red tape office by office and procedure by procedure is not front page or prime time news, unlike high-profile investigations. But ask ordinary citizens which of the two touches their everyday lives more, from getting a driver’s license, business permit, police clearance or land title, to paying taxes, receiving pension and releasing shipments, the ARTA campaign wins hands down.

Slashing red tape is also crucial in the Aquino Administration’s flagship public-private partnership program for infrastructure development. No amount of PPP incentives and platitudes would help if projects get bogged down in bureaucratic procedures on the ground, whether it is city or municipal business permits, barangay clearances, BIR and SSS registration, or immigration visas for foreign staff.

The World Economic Forum annual competitiveness survey has repeatedly ranked corruption and inefficient government bureaucracy as the top two most problematic factors in doing business in the Philippines. If graft and red tape block PPP undertakings, then they would further worsen the No. 3 obstacle to investment in the country, by WEF’s reckoning: inadequate infrastructure.

Cutting red tape and getting things right and clear on the ground also makes sense from a governance and management standpoint. If the government cannot perfect something as simple as a birth certificate, how can it handle an environmental clearance certificate? By streamlining and explaining processes and holding public servants to published, time-bound service standards, the nationwide fight against red tape slashes opportunities for graft and instills a service culture, while harnessing the people in the war against corruption.

The last part of this article will appear on Friday. –Ricardo Saludo, Manila Times

Ricardo Saludo heads the Center for Strategy, Enterprise & Intelligence (ric.saludo@censeisolutions.com). He was Secretary of the Cabinet in 2002-08 and Chairman of the Civil Service Commission in 2008-09.

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