This post was originally published with The Manila Times on October 17, 2019.
In a meeting at the Senate a few weeks ago, Sen. Sonny Angara told us that the Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA) was the disruptive force needed for governmental reforms. That sparked sentiments of inspiration and perplexity that ultimately led to this column.
It is almost universally accepted that people have an innate resistance to change, perhaps due to the uncertainty as to what the future may hold, and the fear of that unknown. As Andrew Smith famously said, “People fear what they don’t understand and hate what they can’t conquer.”
To disrupt is to shake the boat, to mess up the status quo, so to speak. Historically, to be a disruptor is to be a promoter of chaos. However, disruption is so pervasive in today’s technological world that we simply have adapted. The resistance was practically short-lived.
It was not so long ago we all had different things to play music, send messages, listen to music, watch videos, list our schedules, etc. Today, many of us cannot live without these functions in our phones.
In China, the disruption is even more fast-paced. From a predominantly cash-based, no-credit card economy, they skipped and went straight to electronic wallets and e-payments. The difficulty is no longer when you forget your wallet, but when your phone has no battery.
The point is, today’s disruption brings about change at a much faster pace than before. It is much more inescapable and in-your-face that people notice the change and accept it much faster. As Steve Goodrich puts it, disruption leads to the “new normal”.
Enter stage left ― ARTA, the agency created under the Ease of Doing Business and Efficient Delivery of Government Services Act in 2018 (EODB law). We are mandated to make strategic reforms in governmental processes and procedures that lead to significantly cutting backlog and processing time for governmental services, with a specific focus on improving the Philippine ranking in the World Bank Doing Business Report.
Effectively, we are exactly what Senator Angara termed us ― the disruptors in government.
How we are achieving those goals is through the very mandate of the law, in both carrot and stick approach. We work closely with fellow government agencies and their officials to identify processes and requirements that can be streamlined. We lead the drive, along with our partners in the Department of Information and Communications Technology in digitizing the transactions and dealings with government. We work with agencies to improve overall efficiency of public servants that is tied to their performance-based bonuses.
Unfortunately, our work and mandate has not been accepted by others, and we are forced to utilize the punitive functions of ARTA. Cases have been filed against errant officials in the Civil Service Commission, the Office of the Ombudsman, and the Office of the President.
Penalties for violations of the EODB law are significant: First offense ― six months suspension. Second offense ― what I call the kitchen sink (everything including the kitchen sink analogy). Administrative, Civil, and Criminal penalties of dismissal from service, perpetual disqualification from public office, forfeiture of retirement benefits, fine of PhP 500,000 to PhP 2,000,000, and imprisonment of one year to six years.
These penalties are mandated by law, enacted by Congress. Steep as they may be, they are required to ensure the scourge of red tape is eliminated. We don’t want to impose them, which is why we call upon our fellow public servants to comply. We would always prefer the carrot over the stick.
That said, we hope that for true reforms to take place, that our partners in government work with us and embrace a mindset open for change. We are the disruptive force in government, let us work together.
The author is chief of staff at the Anti-Red Tape Authority and founder of Caucus Inc., a multi-industry, multi-disciplinary management consultancy firm. He graduated MBA (De La Salle University), Juris Doctor (Far Eastern University), and Masters of Law in International Commercial Law (Honours, University of Nottingham, United Kingdom). He also studied Mandarin Chinese Language and Culture in Fuzhou, China, was a Chevening-HSBC UK Government Scholar, a Confucius Institute Scholar, an alumnus of the US State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program, and a fellow of the Asia Global Institute — University of Hong Kong. The author may be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.