Bureaucracy in a ‘post-factual’ world

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MIKE WOOTTON

MIKE WOOTTON

We all know that defeated sort of feeling that crops up when faced with the need for the “requirements.” So many papers to find, or obtain and submit for virtually any request for approval of anything in the Philippines.

You frequently wonder what is the purpose of all this stuff that the authorities always require. It comes under the general heading of “red tape” and it invites corrupt practice, every signature or facilitation required is an opportunity to extract a bit of rent, and where people don’t earn enough to have a decent life the temptation must be great. For sure things move very slowly absent some form of external encouragement, not always necessarily a corrupt payment.

There is an Anti Red-Tape Law, RA 9485, but it doesn’t seem to be well enforced or to have much effect. The cynic could say that this lack of enforcement is a social good, it facilitates the redistribution of wealth!
In the Philippines, strict adherence to the process is all. Applications for approvals will not be accepted unless every “t” is crossed and every “i” is dotted, regardless of the obviousness of the social benefit to be achieved.

It’s really hard to understand when there is so much to be done to improve lives. The whole performance is made worse because the time it takes to assemble every single piece of evidence is so long that the rules will change part way through initiating yet another quest for signatures and more paperwork and exposure to rents. One province has a rule that any endorsement of an application for approval only has a life of six months, not long, given the time things take around here.

Admittedly these requirements and the need for signatures give many people a bit of power, and the need creates jobs in an economy that is desperately short of decent work. But looking forward over the treetops, isn’t it better to encourage investors to invest and create decent long-term work, rather than to create employment that repels investors, whilst at the same time encouraging corruption? There is a need to “move on” if real productive jobs, which pay decent salaries, and reduce the temptation for rent payments for signatures or even just to speed things up, are to be created.

It is right that rules and requirements develop to keep pace with new technologies or to plug holes in existing requirements but to put applicants at risk of having to go back and start again because the rules change part way through the application preparation is just so tiresome and unfair. And it discourages investment.

A lot of corruption, but certainly not all would be reduced and investment would be increased if there were a lesser need for widespread stakeholder endorsement, all in the name of and to promote the appearance of a democratic society. To spread authority so widely amongst those who do not even understand the objective of whatever it is they are being asked to approve is a quest for consensus at the lowest common denominator. To develop subject to public referendum is a slow and uncertain way to improve the socio economic condition.

The “requirements” are designed to ensure that no stakeholder is missed in the decision-making process. It has been said that there are about 500 signatures needed to get a power project underway in the Philippines, I think there are many more than that but I don’t have time to count them as I’ve been so busy running after permits! In Canada it’s about 150 and in China now apparently about 100.

The focus of any development initiative becomes the need to secure the approvals and it is because of this that the cost of development and the cost of the eventual product are much higher than they need to be. Part of the reason that the cost of electricity is so high is the enormous cost in terms of time and effort needed to satisfy the requirements for obtaining the huge number of permits and approvals.

This obsession with minutiae—the need evidence even the most obvious facts, provides an interesting contrast to the current worldwide political fashion of “post-factual advocacy” by which appeal is made to the emotions to such great effect that facts, no matter how well known or incontrovertible they may be, just cannot counter the power of the emotionally attractive rhetoric that is so widely publicized. Facts are an inconvenient irrelevance in those forums. If only such a post-factual approach could be used to propel development of the economy forward—in a factually correct way of course!

Would that the bureaucrats could only grasp the fact that to use their time and position to help things go faster would in the longer term produce much better quality opportunity, jobs and lives for all, including themselves.

Mike can be contacted at mawootton@gmail.com

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