Earlier this week, the Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA), the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), and the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) signed a joint memorandum circular (JMC) enjoining all local government units (LGUs) to automate their Business Processing and Licensing Systems (BPLS) and setup an electronic Business One-Stop Shop (eBoss) by June 17 this year.
With an eBoss in place in every LGU, business permit applications may be submitted online, the requisite fees may be paid through digital means, and electronic versions of permits, licenses, and clearances will be issued.
The mandated migration to digital platforms could also make it easier for LGUs to streamline their processes and shorten the number of steps needed — by consolidating for instance the application forms for Business Permit, the Fire Safety and Inspection Certificate (FSIC), locational clearances, or Sanitary and Environmental Permits into a unified application form (UAF).
This is why the JMC signed earlier this week is laudable, as it marks yet another decisive step in the government’s digital transformation, which arguably has been accelerated by the mobility restrictions and social distancing protocols brought about by the pandemic. It’s equally heartening to note that according to the DICT, some 446 LGUs have already signed agreements with the agency in relation to setting up these eBoss systems, and that some 200 are already operational.
Getting the system set up in every LGU is but one step in the process, however. Making sure it is running smoothly, utilized well, and safeguarded properly is another matter altogether, especially when there are significant challenges we have to address before our country’s overall digital transformation can take place.
For instance, a study by the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) pointed out that limited access to computers, lack of standardization, poor infrastructure, and other related issues are hindering the development and implementation of e-government services throughout the country.
In the United Nation’s 2020 e-Government Survey, we ranked 77th out of 193 in the survey’s e-Government Development Index, which is a composite of other metrics on the country’s online services, its human capital, and telecommunications infrastructure. Naturally, we scored the lowest in terms of telecommunications infrastructure.
The 2020 e-Government Survey also ranked the Philippines 57th out of 193 in its e-Participation Index, which covers to what degree citizens are provided public information; are engaged and consulted via online means in deliberations on public policies; and are empowered to take part in the decision-making process and actual design of policy options and services.
Our drop in the Tholons Top 50 Digital Nations List, from 5th in 2020 to 18th this year, is perhaps the most telling. The biggest drop was registered in our workforce population, a fall of 95 percent, which is an indicator for the talent pool available that can be skilled or re-skilled. Another explanation is that in the 2021 edition of the list digital factors, such as the presence of an open innovation ecosystem, our global digital competitiveness, the digital literacy rate, and the presence of digital talent were given more weight than in previous years.
Clearly, there are a lot of issues that need to be addressed, a lot of barriers that have to be broken down to allow our digital transformation to flourish and for e-government to truly be realized. Infrastructure is one. Another are the digital skills of our people. For our part, we co-authored and co-sponsored the Philippine Digital Workforce Competitiveness Act (SBN 1834), which lays out a comprehensive policy on digital upskilling.
We also filed the National Digital Transformation Act (SBN 1470), which among other things establishes a Digital Competence Framework for Citizens and an ICT Competence framework for teachers. It also calls on the DICT and the Civil Service Commission (CSC) to consolidate all the digital skills required of public employees in the career service and coordinate on annual digital skills training initiatives.
To jumpstart the digital transformation of government, we also filed the Local Information and Communications Technology Officer or ICTO Act (SBN 1943), which calls for the mandatory appointment of an ICTO in all provinces, cities, and municipalities. One aim in filing this bill was to ensure that every LGU had at least one tech-savvy person working, not just to be a resident “IT troubleshooter” but to be a genuine shepherd of sorts in the digital transformation process.
The digital transformation of our government is not a simple matter of “plug and play.” It is about genuinely engineering a shift not just in our infrastructure, but also in our people’s competencies.
Sen. Sonny Angara has been in public service for more than 16 years. He has authored and sponsored more than 200 laws. He is currently serving his second term in the Senate.
E-mail: [email protected]| Facebook, Twitter & Instagram: @sonnyangara