Why can't we be like Singapore?: Inquirer columnist

Skyline of Singapore Central Business District at night.
Skyline of Singapore Central Business District at night. PHOTO: ST FILE

MANILA (PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - We need a revolution. No, we don't want the Left to take over. The revolution we want is for the government to give us the service we pay for. Smartly, efficiently, speedily.

And we need Filipinos to stop taking everything to court because it didn't suit their personal interest.

The courts could have a revolution of their own and stop accepting every damned case that is brought to them by a disgruntled loser, or the sufferer from an accident (accidents do happen, and are no one's fault). The courts should require/demand stronger proof of wrongdoing before taking a case.

Here's just one small example: Some 20 former Cabinet officials have an outstanding court case against them, the earliest ones dating back some 12-15 years. None has been resolved.

Does anyone really believe that many Cabinet officials committed a crime? Of course not: It's political harassment. But it ends up being a deterrent to making the fast, bold decisions we need. It has a similar inhibiting effect at lower levels, too. There are several temporary restraining orders in the courts, holding up projects to the detriment of us all.

If you don't cross every "t" and dot every "i," someone will sue you. This has to stop. There must be some flexibility, some leeway, to make intelligent judgmental decisions that anyone with an IQ over 100 could make.

And processes must be radically streamlined. Everyone agrees with this, and many have raised it (I have, numerous times).

The general performance of the bureaucracy is, with some notable exceptions, woeful. Putting it all online-an inevitable and urgent need - will help. But the processes and systems must be radically changed - the minimum needed in the simplest possible way, not the maximum to get all those "t's" crossed and "i's" dotted.

Why can't we be like Singapore where you need only two and a half days and three procedures to start a business? This is among the reasons why Singapore drew almost US$62 billion (S$84.33 billion) in foreign direct investments last year. The Philippines attracted only US$8 billion.

Part of the problem may be in the name. "Bureaucracy" is defined in Chambers Dictionary as "Any system of administration in which matters are hindered by excessive adherence to minor rules and procedures" - so they're doing what the title says they should be doing. So let's change the title and call it the "administration" (defined as "the organisation of business") or the "executive branch" ("concerned with performance, administration or management") in future.

But seriously, attitudes have to change, and more dynamism is needed from the administration. And that's a whole other ball game to discuss at length.

It came back to the fore for me recently when I read how PAL (Philippine Airlines) is being treated over the simple request to expand its second terminal by building on the adjacent blocks owned or controlled by Pagcor (Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp.). Surely that's in the national interest to do.

I've long been bothered by the way lawyers interpret a law, or contract it in a negative way rather than interpret it for the greater good.

The numerous split decisions of the Supreme Court reinforce my contention that laws can be interpreted in, essentially, opposite ways, but certainly can be interpreted by man.

Pagcor can stick to the letter of the law in a restrictive way, as it is apparently now doing. Or it can interpret the contract in a positive way, and agree to modify it so PAL can expand.

We desperately need more terminal space at a hopelessly overcrowded airport. Pagcor wants the road frontage for a casino, where the defunct Philippine Village is. PAL is willing to give it to them in a building where both can coexist. So why is Pagcor resisting? We need that terminal.

On top of this, PAL has the same problem suffered by the water concessionaires, Maynilad and Manila Water.

They all signed contracts clearly stating the fees paid covered all costs to the government. Yet the new management reinterpreted ALL to mean "all except___."

In the water case, it was taxes. In PAL's case. it was navigational fees.

This problem has been repeated several times, after new management is appointed to an agency. This should not be allowed if the government wants to attain a reputation for adherence to contracts and consistency of policy.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 news media entities.