Bringing government closer to its citizens
by Marie Balce, Ph.D.
Having lived and worked in a developed country for many years, one can’t help but feel that you went back 50 years in time when doing business with government in the Philippines. Firstly, one would usually see long lines of people, secondly, there are so many personnel in small cubicles almost on top of each other, thirdly, piles and piles of paper in offices – inbox, outbox, pending trays with mountains of forms. Whether you are getting a driver’s licence or applying for a business permit, it’s all the same – too many personnel, too much paper files and many people frustratingly waiting. To the observant citizen, it looks inefficient, unproductive and costly.
The impetus to transform the public sector into an efficient and participatory system has been spearheaded by international organizations namely OECD and ASEAN. In 2014, the OECD (Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development) has published a Recommendation paper on digital government strategies “to bring governments closer to citizens and businesses” and to improve public sector efficiency. (1)
The ASEAN also recognizes that the region has to evolve with the rest of the world technologically and prescribes that “the civil sector has to respond to the changing needs and expectations of its citizens”. Hence in 2021, the ASEAN Digital Master Plan 2025 was published, which specifies 8 desired outcomes, one of which is “increase in quality and use of e-government services”. (2)
Back in the Philippines, the newly elected President Ferdinand “Bong Bong” Marcos Jr, at a meeting with League of Cities of the Philippines on August 3, has pronounced that “digitalization would play a big part in PPP (Private Public Partnership), especially in pushing for economic recovery and digital transformation”. Perhaps, we can take that as a presidential appreciation that digitalization can solve public sector inefficiencies. and that’s great news.
But what is digitalization?
Digitalization (more correct term is “digital transformation”) is the use of digital technologies (information and communication technologies) into all areas of the business to fundamentally change how you operate and deliver value to customers. It’s a cultural change within the organization, which requires challenging the status quo, doing experimentation and innovation. (4)
And what is Digital Government?
Digital government services (also called e-government) are defined as service delivery within government — as well as between government and the public — using information and communication technologies. (5) Common digital services range from filing tax returns, paying real property taxes, applying for a business permit, application for building permits, marriage registration, issuance of certifications, etc.
Going digital as experienced in other countries provides tremendous benefits for the Government and its citizens:
- Ease of “doing business” with the government for its citizens.
- Raised trust, credibility and public profile of the government to its citizens and the rest of the country.
- Increased public engagement or participation in government initiatives.
- Improved internal efficiency and productivity.
- Improved revenue collection.
- Reduced labor costs.
- Better collaboration among departments.
- Reduced paper trail.
- Realistic Program Outcomes.
- Good use of IT skills in the community.
Already, there are a number of “digital solutions” providers in the Philippines focusing on LGUs. These solutions may be grouped into the following categories or modules:
- Financial Management and Information System (FMIS) – potentially one of the most critical solutions, which as the name suggests integrates all financial management aspects of a government unit including budget management, cash/debt management, accounting and reporting.
- Revenue Generation Systems – may consist of tax returns filing and payment system, real property tax collection system, business permit application and payment system, etc.
- Online Services – are services that can be accessed online by citizens without going to the Barangay Office. Examples are issuance of Barangay Clearance, Barangay Residence Certificate, Civil Registry such as marriage registration, etc.
- Socio-Economic Information System – consists of socio-economic statistics of citizens in the government area. At Barangay level it is called Barangay Information System. The system could include general demographic data, levels of poverty, levels of malnutrition and other critical indices, and list of 4Ps recipients, etc.
- Administrative Support System – is a system that supports activities relating to human resources of the government unit including Recruitment, Employee Leave and Attendance monitoring, Payroll System and Employee Portal where employees can access various information and online training tools to improve the performance of their roles.
- Legislative Management System – Legislative Tracking Portal, Coding, Tracking and Management of Legal proceedings and documentations including resolutions, ordinances, and all other related legal documents.
- Healthcare Services System – at the minimum it is used for the issuance of health permits and certifications. Hospital Management and Information System (HMIS) also falls under this category the main purpose is to build a paperless hospital management system that focuses on secure electronic management of patient data as well as that of medical personnel, more efficient healthcare practice and reporting system. The HMIS may be linked to PhilHealth for efficient management of health insurance payments.
- Social Services and Development System – system dedicated to social services such as programs to empower women (GAD), youth-focused programs, programs for people with disabilities, for indigenous tribes and other development initiatives.