The need for an efficient bureaucracy

The Executive Opinion Survey in the 2017-2018 World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Competitiveness Report highlighted an inefficient government bureaucracy as the most problematic factor for doing business in the Philippines. The other factors identified in their order of being problematic were: an inadequate supply of infrastructure, corruption, tax regulations and tax rates. Several other factors were cited though it was the inefficient government bureaucracy that was on top of the list and considered by practically all respondents as the biggest problem in doing business in the country.

The results of the opinion survey would not really be surprising to practically anyone doing business in the Philippines. World Bank figures show that the country’s rank in the ease of doing business has deteriorated from 99 in 2016 to 113 in 2017 out of 190 economies rated.

The business sector and the truly service-oriented in government have long been trying to find ways and means to facilitate business in the country, improve competitiveness and bring about inclusive economic growth. A current law passed, RA 11032, the Ease of Doing Business and Efficient Government Service Delivery Act of 2018, which expands RA 9485, or the Anti- Red Tape Act of 2007, is a major step in this direction. The law was enacted “to promote integrity, accountability, proper management of public affairs and public property as well as to establish effective practices, aimed at efficient turnaround of the delivery of government services and the prevention of graft and corruption in government.”

Without doubt, this is a good law and should theoretically help ease doing business in the country. However, a law is only as good as its implementation and implementation is carried out by people, which in this case, is the government bureaucracy. Thus, the key to all of this once again, is an efficient bureaucracy.

There are several definitions of bureaucracy and they apply to both the public and private sectors. For the business people dealing with government, it generally means the administrative officials and personnel of government and the system used to run it.

Administrative personnel and systems have always been doing the day-to-day work of government. Ancient Egypt, the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, Ancient China all had bureaucracies running government. However, it was in the 18th century that the bureaucratic system was more or less formalized in Europe primarily by the British and the French.

A bureaucracy is theoretically supposed to make government work well. However, history has shown that too much and/or an inefficient bureaucracy does exactly the opposite.

The Philippine constitution mandates that “appointments in the civil service shall be made only according to merit and fitness to be determined, as far as practicable and except to positions which are policy-determining, primarily confidential or highly technical, by competitive examination.” The constitution mandates the Civil Service Commission “to establish a career service and adopt measures to promote morale, efficiency, integrity, responsiveness, progressiveness and courtesy in the civil service. It shall strengthen the merit and rewards system, integrate all human resources development programs for all levels and ranks and institutionalize a management climate conducive to public accountability.”

We are not lacking in laws to ensure an efficient bureaucracy. The passage of the Ease of Doing Business and Efficient Government Service Delivery with its provisions on the creation of an Anti-Red Tape Authority and its two-strike policy for government officials and employees found in violation of the law, among others, is a big boost towards attaining the bureaucracy we all want.

We are likewise not lacking in the area of compensating the bureaucracy. In 2016, then President Benigno Aquino III signed Executive Order 201 for a four-year upgrading salary and benefits program for government workers. Early this year, President Rodrigo Duterte signed Joint Resolution No. 1 of the House of Representatives and the Senate, doubling the salary of the PNP and AFP officers and personnel.

Given the existing laws on merit, fitness, efficiency and accountability in the public sector, the clear desire of those at the highest levels of government, the call of the business sector and the improved compensation package for government workers, we should theoretically be able to have a more efficient bureaucracy. Of course, the theoretical is not a guarantee.

Laws will have to be enforced to ensure that the bureaucracy does what it is legally and morally obligated to do. More importantly, the citizens whom the bureaucracy is supposed to serve, must insist on their rights. Otherwise, it will just be business as usual.

In many instances, citizens do not insist on their rights or formally complain when the bureaucrats are inefficient. This is usually due to a lack of knowledge of what should really be and/or the distaste for an argument. This attitude is what will prevent us from having an efficient bureaucracy. The inefficient will know that they can get away with it. However, if the inefficient know that formal complaints and cases will be filed against them, that they may lose their jobs, then the probability that they will carry out their work well increases considerably. As we say, “kailangan ma-sampolan” (you have to give them a sample of what can happen to them).

The laws of the land mandate an efficient bureaucracy. The highest elected leaders of the land and the business community demand it. It is now up to us, the citizenry whom the bureaucracy is supposed to serve, to ensure that we get it.

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