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Another anti-red tape law

/ 04:03 AM January 12, 2021

The search for ways and means to reduce, if not eliminate, bureaucratic red tape in government transactions continues.

That quest started as early as 1960 with the enactment of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act (Republic Act No. 3019).

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The law, among others, punished government officials and employees for “neglecting or refusing, after due demand or request, without sufficient justification, to act within a reasonable time on any matter pending before him for the purpose of obtaining, directly or indirectly, from any person interested in the matter some pecuniary or material benefit or advantage …”

Apparently, this law did not put fear into the hearts of its intended subjects as red tape in government offices continued to flourish.

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The reason for that may be partly traced to the failure of the law to define what constitutes “reasonable time” and the difficulty of proving that the neglect or refusal to act was done for personal gain.

That ambiguity (and more) was addressed in 2007 with the enactment of Republic Act No. 9485 (Anti-Red Tape Act of 2007) which, in part, required all applications and requests to be acted upon by the assigned officer or employee not longer than five working days for simple transactions and 10 working days for complex transactions from the date of receipt of the application or request.

If a government office fails to act on an application or request for renewal of a license, permit or authority subject for renewal within those periods, the application shall automatically be extended until a decision or resolution is rendered on its renewal.

Like its predecessor, however, this law did not live up to expectations. Bureaucratic red tape remained endemic, if not worse, than before.

In 2018, Congress enacted the Ease of Doing Business and Efficient Government Service Delivery Act of 2018 (Republic Act No. 11032).

With the objective of streamlining current systems and procedures in government services, this law prescribed, among others, the maximum periods within which transactions with national and local government offices should be completed, i.e., three working days for simple transactions, seven working days for complex transactions and 20 working days for highly technical applications.

If the government office concerned fails to act within the prescribed processing periods, the application or request shall be considered approved or renewed.

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To underscore the significance of its objective, this law created the Anti-Red Tape Authority (Arta) to “implement and oversee the national policy on anti-red tape and ease of doing business in the country.”

With the Arta taking the lead, it would be reasonable to assume the issue of red tape in government transactions can be considered resolved and doing business with government offices would be less cumbersome or even a breeze.

Not so.

After two years, Congress felt the need for the president of the Philippines to be directly involved in expediting the processing and issuance of national and local permits, licenses and certifications in times of national emergency, so it enacted Republic Act No. 115171.

Although its deliberations indicate this law was enacted to assist the national government in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress opted to expand its application to events in the future that may be analogous to that medical malady so it used “natio­nal emergency” as the defining factor for its invocation.

Noticeably, the law does not define what constitutes a national emergency that would justify the President’s involvement on red tape issues. Rightly so, that determination has been left to the sound discretion or judgment of the President.

Unlike in past laws, Congress this time specifically named the government offices whose systems and processes can be ordered by the President modified, suspended or waived to speed up the release of regulatory approvals.

With the enumeration, Congress may have subtly identified them as the offices that need to do more in reducing red tape in their transactions with the public.

Judging from the way laws of similar nature have been enforced, this latest law on reducing red tape and making doing business with the government easier is not going to be the last. INQ

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