Putting ‘frontline’ first


HANOI, Vietnam: The first impressions of any government by its citizens have always been frontline services. It is a measure of efficiency, effectiveness and economy. It is also a gauge on how transparent and accountable the institution and processes are. A good frontline means a happy citizen when applications are processed fast, licenses and plates are given on time, passports are routinely renewed, permits and licenses are renewed, or processing of new applications is made reasonably.

Delay should not be associated with government, its agencies and instrumentalities since they are in the business of service delivery. A day delayed is no longer acceptable to any citizen of a country trying to ensure responsiveness to a public good. Impressions on service delivery then become crucial since it becomes the barometer of how people judge government’s performance.

In Hanoi for work and leisure, I noticed how Vietnam has leapfrogged into the future. Though still not competitive in speaking the international language of English, you see infrastructure has adjusted heavily in making the country very competitive. These days, when I travel to Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, I feel bad going back to the Philippines and seeing how we have lost our advantage over these countries. On the other hand, arriving from trips to the so-called Mekong Delta countries that gave you a sigh of relief that we were still ahead may no longer be true today. In the case of Hanoi, its airport is a lot better than Manila’s. The airport is clean, cool, and the rest rooms are functioning well: there is water for flush, toilet paper, light. The waiting areas are clean and the chairs are in order, immigration lines are managed well (they don’t even have an immigration form to fill out), etc.

Nội Bài International Airport, in the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi, is the largest airport in Vietnam. A literature on it says, “It is the main airport serving Hanoi, replacing the role of Gia Lam Airport. The airport consists of two passenger terminals. Terminal 1 serves domestic flights, and the newly built Terminal 2 (inaugurated on the 4th of January 2015) serves all international flights to and from Hanoi. The airport is currently the main hub of the country’s flag carrier, Vietnam Airlines, as well as a major hub of low-cost carriers, Vietjet Air and Jetstar Pacific.”

The airport is “located in Phu Minh Commune in Soc Son District, about 35 kilometers (21 miles) northeast of downtown Hanoi, via the new Nhật Tân Bridge (also inaugurated on the 4th of January 2015). It can also be reached by National Road 3, which connects it with the eastern suburbs of Hanoi. The airport is also close to some satellite cities of Hanoi such as Vinh Yen, Bac Ninh and Thai Nguyen. The airport served a total of 13 million passengers in 2013, despite having a capacity of only 9 million at the time. The new international terminal, which had its first commercial flight on the 25th of December 2014 and went into full operation on 31 December 2014, has boosted the total capacity of the airport to 19 million passengers per year.”

As they say, airports are the hearts of nations; they are a country’s window to the outside world. Airports give tourists the first impressions while, the citizens, an infrastructure to be proud of. In Manila, we have three terminals and they are all badly managed. It seems management does not care at all about the plight of travelers, both domestic and international. Which is sad because the Philippines is such a beautiful country and it can really be one of the top destinations in ASEAN and Asia. The frontline services in our NAIA are quite bad. It starts when you enter any of the terminals. Long lines of customers met by security dragging their feet to do their jobs. Unfriendly NAIA people, who probably hate their jobs because nary a smile or courteous greeting could be seen on or heard from them. Toilets are smelly and water erratic. Amenities are also irregular. If you do a redeye, you see cleaners using walis tingting to clean the carpets.

A sloppy frontline service is bad for companies that renew permits and licenses. Service is not uniform across local government units. In the case of Pasig, long lines define renewal. Abusive frontline employees are the norm. They are gods and it is pointless for a client to argue with them on a wrong assessment. You don’t win since they will just delay the release of permits. A consulting firm has to pay for environmental clearance even if it is not operating food establishments. X-ray is mandatory for all employees and it has nothing to do with your business. They ask you to pay for garbage bags, all printed with the name of the mayor, or else you don’ t get renewed. Their assessment of taxes paid is far different from BIR’s, and so one gets to pay surcharges for some computations different from the corporate tax levied by BIR. Worst, if you are a sole proprietor who is just starting a business, they will not give you your permit unless you buy a fire extinguisher. Then, and only then, can you get a Barangay Permit—and that is after one month of waiting. Doing some transactions online may give you the power to leverage; unfortunately, computers are “not working” during renewal time.

Putting frontline services first must be the way to go for the Duterte administration. Of all the Presidents we’ve had, Duterte is the first local government official to be catapulted into the presidency. He was molded by his years of experience as mayor of Davao City. Frontline also means getting the smallest government unit, the barangay, to work. A dirty community with garbage uncollected, blocked drainage, unsafe roads, etc. is the first impression of whether government is functioning well. It forms the collective belief on government. It renders the notion that “leaders” are just there during elections.

Duterte’s no long lines, no delayed services and no payment for services already paid by taxes will be the centerpiece of his governance philosophy. That will be very hard to accomplish with a bureaucracy so used to red tape and delay. But if Duterte means well, and he seems to do so, we may just have a true revolution in the offing, where fairness and responsibility become core values of governance. They are the proud expressions of the collective hope of Filipinos over many generations to secure for each other the foundations of a fair and decent society. These ideals could now be expressed in the “desire for a bigger say and more accountability in the decisions that affect daily lives, and for truly excellent services that are universal to all but personal to each.”

Nine days to go before Duterte steps on the bat, and the bases are so loaded.


Please follow our commenting guidelines.

1 Comment

  1. We have been left behind and sadly we’re gonna have a difficult time catching up.In all my travels abroad, i have not experienced any untoward incident in airports. You can feel the professional discipline of immigration authorities that they are not out to milk money from you.A far cry with the tanim bala stories and taxis taking advantage of weary travelers, the foreigners in particular in our own backyard.
    For travelers, all we want is the ease of leaving, arriving safely and moving out quickly.
    Ironically, a country like China and HK has all the ingredients i mentioned; MTR linked directly to major airports like Beijing, Guangzhou and Chek Lap Kok.