Despite the millions of public funds that have been poured into the modernization of local government units (LGUs) in the Philippines, it's a shame that not much has changed in the way municipalities conduct their transactions with the public.
Last January, I tried to renew the business permit of Newsbytes.ph, the IT news Web site which I co-founded, at the City Hall of Pasig. For those not familiar with Pasig, the city is one of the wealthiest cities in Metro Manila.
Sadly, however, the city hasn't put in place an electronic system worthy of its vision as city looking out to the future.
Even if I wasn't applying for a new permit, I had to go through an insane number of steps and pay a ridiculous renewal fee (more than 12,000 pesos for a mere Web site). It's no wonder several multi-lateral agencies have complained about the difficulty of doing business here in the Philippines.
As it was two days before the deadline for the permit, I had to waste precious hours with a thousand other souls. It was not smart at all.
I had to go back the following day just to make the payment when I could have it done in a bank near our house--if only the city had a payment tie-up with the local banks.
Although I have paid the required fee, I still wasn't able to get the document since I have yet to fulfill a few more requirements, which--again--could have been done easily via the Internet if only the city had implemented an automated business permit renewal system.
Last February, the national government hailed the launch of its Philippine Business Registry System (PBRS). The PBRS, according to the government, serves as a one-stop shop for entrepreneurs who need to transact with several agencies to be able to start operating a business.
The agencies included in the initiative are the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), Social Security System (SSS), Home Development Mutual Fund (PAG-IBIG), Philippine Health and Insurance (PhilHealth) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
While undoubtedly a good project, the problem with this is that the agencies were merely linked and does not go down to the root of the problem--the LGUs. Until and unless the government is able to bring the benefit of modernization to this level, frustration and disappointment will continue to persist.
But, there is still a glimmer of hope. In a chance meeting at a recent Senate hearing, I was told by the Information and Communications Technology Office's executive director, Louis Casambre, that the government is now on the verge of putting out a new version of the e-LGU template system that was previously--but dismally--rolled out by the National Computer Center.
The government should and must it get right this time around.