Common sense isn’t so common in many of our government agencies. To this day, even in the age of technology, some well-entrenched and inefficient age-old practices continue.
Pity the public, especially tired and frail senior citizens who need to wait in long, snaking lines for hours and hours on end for their turn at the counter; or those who travel all the way from the provinces just to do a transaction in Metro Manila.
Indeed, it’s never fun transacting in some government offices, whether you are requesting for copies of certain documents, availing of a tax refund, getting your vehicle registered or simply registering a name for your business.
At the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), for instance, the process for a tax refund is so tedious you just want to forego the request. There’s a long list of requirements that varies from one office to another, says a senior citizen who has been trying to avail of her refund for months now, but has been given the runaround.
Rare it is that one would actually have a seamless and smooth experience in most government offices.
It’s, therefore, a step in the right direction for President Marcos to streamline the bureaucracy. As I mentioned in a previous column, his first step must be to clean the house and rid the whole government of bureaucratic cobwebs.
Part of this must be to improve frontline services in government offices. This is especially urgent because this is really what it means to be a government for the people – for the citizens to be able to transact with the state without going through the gauntlet; for us to be able to really feel that there is a government working for us, and one that isn’t just fulfilling the barest minimum requirements.
It is dizzying and you almost always have to deal with supposed public servants who are too busy or too lazy to even look up from whatever they are doing behind their desks to look you in the eye when you approach them and ask for instructions.
There have been improvements, of course, including having some government agencies in malls, but there’s still so much that can be done. Even in mall-based satellite offices, people need to wait for hours. There must be something that can be done to improve the whole system to make it faster and more efficient.
It’s no surprise that fixers exist, but they are wrong and costly.
Perhaps our policymakers or those in power do not really know how tedious a day in a government office can be because, for one, there’s always someone who does it for them and in those rare instances they have to do it themselves, it is most likely they use the VIP lanes.
We don’t need VIP lanes if we overhaul the entire system and improve services for each and every Filipino.
No president has successfully improved government services to the extent that a taxpayer would really have a breeze when dealing with such offices.
And this is how it should be.
I hope President Marcos is serious in streamlining the bureaucracy, along with all the components – ridding the offices and agencies of corruption, improving frontline services, and abolishing redundant bureaus and departments. As I earlier noted, the list of government agencies and offices published by the Bureau of the Treasury is long – all of seven pages. That’s a whole lot of offices, funded by taxpayers’ money.
We don’t need more offices or manpower; what we need is a better system. We can replicate processes in other countries and learn from their success stories. We need not reinvent the wheel.
Appointing the right leaders is equally important. Rody Duterte appointed generals, police or members of the military in some offices, even as experts in other fields could have been more effective.
Someone with a background in finance or actuarial science, for instance, is what is needed in agencies dealing with finance, health insurance or pension funds.
They should also be skilled in managing and improving customer services because Filipinos are more than customers – we are taxpayers and we deserve efficient services.
Speaking of better services, newly appointed Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista or JJB visited three Metro Rail Transit Line-3 (MRT-3) stations on Monday, “riding incognito” as a passenger to experience first-hand the daily commute of passengers on the busiest rail line in Metro Manila and to see for himself how the system can be improved.
Kudos to Secretary JJB for doing this. It’s really important to actually experience the daily struggle of commuters. A day isn’t enough, but it’s a start.
Some of his suggestions for improvements include providing clean rest rooms with ample water supply, accessibility of consumer welfare desks to all passengers, additional X-ray machines, adding platforms and seats for waiting senior citizens, PWDs, and pregnant women, a full ticket counter complement, and promoting the use stored value tickets (Beep cards) instead of single journey tickets to reduce lines.
We also need faster elevators and escalators in the different stations.
Other government officials should also do surprise visits to see for themselves how their agencies deal with the most ordinary people on the most ordinary days.