This article was originally published with The Manila Times on March 6, 2020.
Last Friday, we launched the National Business One-Stop Shop (Nboss) at the Philippine International Convention Center. It is the first of its kind, and if successful, will serve as the model for other one-stop shops on delivery of government services nationwide.
At the Nboss, we gathered and co-located the key agencies in starting a business — the Securities and Exchange Commission, Bureau of Internal Revenue, Social Security System, Home Development Mutual Fund, and Philippine Health Insurance Corp.
The result — business registration from all these agencies in one place. During the launch, we did an actual registration of the one-person corporation of our celebrity supporter and entrepreneur, Bea Binene. By filling in a single form and paying at a single counter, she left with the certificates of registration of her café — in less than half an hour.
Even prior to the actual launch of the Nboss, other government agencies and instrumentalities as well as some local government units expressed interest in the model as a means to streamline and automate their regulatory frameworks.
What this signifies really, is not the project Nboss itself, but more of a need for multiple government agencies to come together and regulate in a unified manner. Enter stage right, the whole-of-government approach.
Through this approach, extensive efficiencies are achieved by adopting a more coalesced method of regulating. One would be surprised at the unnecessarily burdensome effect of repetitive requirements across multiple agencies. A form here, a certified true copy there, a letter of intent here, and again and again and again.
How inefficient could this be, you ask? A Development Academy of the Philippines study revealed that in various industries, a removal of repetitive documentary requirements would result in a reduction of over 30 percent of the overall regulatory inefficiencies.
Someone once said that a natural tendency of government is to over-regulate. It’s an antiquated mindset, and one that has a detrimental effect on a country’s economy. A Forbes article revealed that the United States’ exponential increase in regulation actually reduced economic growth and had a specific effect on low-income residents.
That is something that we Filipinos should take as a warning. Our economy is highly reliant on micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs). In fact, MSMEs account for a whopping 99.5 percent of all establishments registered in the country, employ over 62 percent of the labor force, and contributes 35 percent total value to the economy.
Now more than ever, with large foreign investors leaving the country, we should be prepared with the resulting blow to employment. As an entrepreneur myself, I cringe at the thought that before, to legitimately and legally register my venture would require a field trip of multiple cities, full of the scenic red glow of automobile brakelights, taking days upon end. The World Bank cited in the Starting a Business Indicator that the Philippines had an average process of 13 steps comprising 33 days end-to-end. That performance ranked the country at 171st out of the 190 economies surveyed.
For context, it would be good to know how our regional neighbors fared in the same report. Singapore is number two in the world. In fact, among countries comprising the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, we are 7th out of the ten economies. That makes it even more difficult to tell investors to come and set up business here, when it takes Singapore 3.5 days to register while for the Philippines it takes ten times longer.
On Wednesday, the Anti-Red Tape Authority launched the National Effort for the Harmonization of Efficient Measures of Inter-related Agencies program, a systemic and strategic attempt to aggressively streamline processes and procedures in a number of key sectors. In numerous meetings, both the Cabinet Assistance System and the Cabinet have expressed support and approval for the reforms. Our tactic is one similar to that at the core of Nboss — a whole of government approach. Gone should be the days when government agencies operate in a vacuum, in silos, lacking coordination and cooperation among themselves. That first step, bringing them together, eliminating repetitive and unnecessary regulations, would already make a significant impact in our performance and outlook as an investment destination.
The author is chief of staff at the Anti-Red Tape Authority and founder of Caucus Inc., a multi-industry, multidisciplinary 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.