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New bureau promises to cut gov’t red tape

While red tape remains to be a major headache for both local and foreign businessmen in the Philippines, the coming months promise improvements with a new government  gency looking to be more active in imposing penalties on erring government personnel who intentionally delay the processing of business documents and permits.

Soon to be known as the Business Anti-Red Tape and Competitiveness Bureau once the Expanded Anti-Red Tape Act (Senate Bill No. 1311) is enacted, this new body under the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) will directly oversee the various functions of government agencies nationwide and impose the corresponding penalties on guilty parties suspected of complicating business-related processes with the public.

According to Sen. Miguel Zubiri, chair of the Senate Committee on trade, commerce, and entrepreneurship, he was a former victim of unnecessary delays, and even requests of several solicitations in cash and kind just to “speed up” the registration of his 400-square meter lot, which took over four months. The senator said that simple call to a regional director resulted in the overnight resolving of the matter.

Offenses and penalties

Government employees are forbidden from imposing more requirements from the business representative once the bar code is in place. And if the permit is not approved after a certain deadline, the permit is considered approved. Any disapproval must be in accordance with legal procedures, and nothing else.

“I understand the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) is under heat from many business sectors. The permit here takes so long to process, plus the fact that one needs to buy a certain brand of fire extinguisher or hydrants at nearly five times the price before the permit is approved. This time, the BFP is given only 10 working days and is banned from selling any fire equipment,” Zubiri told a cheering audience.

He added that one will only fill out one form from the DTI dubbed the Unified Business Permit Application Form. This is an online transaction with no chances of corruption since this does not need a personal visit to the government office.

Regarding business permits, the soon-to-be established Central Business Portal would allow frontline government offices to process applications and digitally sign documents to applicants to speed up the process.

Penalties for first-time offenders are 30 days without pay. Two-time offenders will be slapped six months without pay. While third-timers will be dismissed, forfeited of retirement benefits, and slapped with criminal charges.

Serving as lead agencies in the Expanded Anti-Red Tape Act is the Civil Service Commission (CSC), and the anti-red tape bureau under the DTI. The DTI will also accept complaints from the public, talk to the agency concerned, or file cases outright.

Other acts such as abuse of authority by government officials involved in business permits, licenses, and tax remittances, and delaying tactics will be considered as criminal offenses and treated as such.

Stark figures

Speaking before the Visayas Area Business Conference (VABC) held at the Oakridge Pavilion in Mandaue City, Zubiri pointed out that the Philippines placed 47th in the World Global Competitiveness Index among 190 countries in 2015, and fell to 56th place in 2016.

In terms of infrastructure pillars, the Philippines ranked only 97th among 137 countries, thus indicating much room for improvement.

“It takes 16 procedures to start a licensed business, but only six in Singapore and Malaysia, and only six in Laos. To register a property, the Philippines needs nine procedures, compared to only three in Singapore, and four in Thailand and Laos,” he continued.

Paying taxes is even worse. Zubiri pointed out that one needs to make 36 payments to register a business with the Bureau of Internal Revenue, but only five in Singapore, 15 in Malaysia, and 27 in Brunei.