July 10, 2019
AFTER more than a year of inaction, the Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA) finally has its first director general, former Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission consultant Jeremiah Belgica. The new chief will now face the challenge of demonstrating quickly the importance and value of the agency.
ARTA was created by Republic Act (RA) 11032, or the “Ease of Doing Business and Efficient Government Service Delivery Act of 2018,” which was signed into law in May 2018 but only now will be put into effect. The goal of ARTA is “to implement a national policy on anti-red tape and ease of doing business, and to promote reforms and initiatives aimed at improving the competitiveness ranking of the Philippines,” the agency said in the same statement announcing Belgica’s appointment.
There is more than a little irony in the conception of ARTA and the unusually long period of time it has taken for it and the law it has to finally enforce, and this is what Belgica will have to overcome.
Reducing red tape, removing opportunities for corruption, as well as simplifying and streamlining bureaucratic procedures in registering and regulating businesses are, of course, worthy goals. They have always been part of President Rodrigo Durterte’s core advocacies, and they make good business sense.
Yet on the surface, it would not seem that the best answer to excessive and unnecessary procedure and costs in the functions of government agencies is to create an entirely additional layer of government oversight to try to correct the problem. ARTA is not an insignificant government office in terms of size; it has proposed a budget of P500 million to the Department of Budget and Management, fully P300 million of which it expects to use for salaries and day-to-day operating expenses.
Nevertheless, while some skepticism may be a natural reaction, there is no reason to assume that ARTA or its new leader, who is by all accounts qualified and prepared for his role, will not be able to carry out its mandate and improve the way government does business. Among the responsibilities ARTA now has are the development of sensible standards for processing times for permits, certificates, licenses and the like; assisting agencies at different levels of government to streamline their processes, such as through the setting up of “one-stop shops” for business registrations; and recommending ways in which different agencies and government units can coordinate their activities and make them more “business friendly,” using the results of the World Bank’s annual competitiveness rankings as a guide.
As the head of ARTA, Belgica will be successful if he is able to convince key officials in other areas to buy into what ARTA is trying to achieve. If officials in other government agencies take the broad goals of ARTA to heart and work with rather than against the agency, visible and substantial improvements will follow quickly.
Having taken an unusually long time to find who he evidently believes is the right man to lead ARTA, President Duterte should help to ensure its success by giving it his firm support, and making it clear to the rest of the government that working with ARTA is not only in everyone’s best interests, but an obligation.
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