Commentary: Enter the business ombudsman

ombudsman_logo.jpgI received a press release from the Department of Trade and Industry earlier this week about the reactivation of the Investment Ombudsman’s office. It hit me. It got me smarting a quizzical look.

It is of course well-meaning –perhaps another specialized treatment for brighter business climate.No I don’t repel positive energies. I don’t want to. We need to attract investors, yes. I think we need to be creative in doing so.

The move, however, only shows more tiers in the bureaucracy. Can’t we make existing mechanisms work and do away with additional baggage? Take for example the existing Ombudsman. Or the chain of command in every agency working with business. Can’t they police their own ranks?

It must have been an offshoot of this statement from President Arroyo:

“Fifth, reduce red tape in all agencies to cut business costs. And that is the great work of Peter Favila today. And to help Peter do that, we have appointed Pita Flores as the — what do you call it? –investment ombudsman,” during the Economic Briefing and Lunch with the Economic Journalists Association of the Philippines (EJAP) on February 20, 2007 at Makati Shangri-La.

The DTI said the reactivation of the office will help attract more businessmen to invest in the country. OK, noted.

Trade Assistant Secretary Merly M. Cruz said this will bring economic growth as more investors will have confidence in putting up their business here.

“This will ensure that government agencies involved in the issuance of investment-related requirements will function accordingly,” she said. (I remember the DTI’s initiative for the NERBAC.)

Meanwhile, Trade Secretary Peter B. Favila welcomed the decision of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to name Lawyer Florecita Flores as head of the Investment Ombudsman’s office. (Who among the members of the Cabinet will be brave enough not to welcome a presidential appointee?)

The office will provide advice, guidance, and information on various laws, rules, and regulations governing investments and the conduct of business in the Philippines, including the incentives that can be availed of. (The Board of Investments cannot do this? What are they for?)

It is also tasked with facilitating the processing of requirements by concerned agencies, including local government units (LGUs), like licenses and permits thereby ensuring that all frontline agencies perform their tasks within the prescribed standards and parameters (Can’t the Department of Trade and Industry do police work if need be, via the DILG or the Finance department for LGUs? Even LGUs have their own mechanisms, like release of IRA.)

In coordination with the Investment Facilitation Specialists, the office will be part of a network providing current and prospective investors with answers to technical and legal inquiries and fast action on the approval of investment-related documents. (Well, stuff that the DTI/DOF/BOI/DOJ and even MEDCO for Mindanao can do.)

Favila noted that the Investment Ombudsman will oversee graft charges against government officials perceived to be blocking investment activities. (So there will also be Education Ombudsman, Public Works Ombudsman? What about Savings, Housing, Agriculture Ombudsman for those government employees blocking agriculture activities?)

The office is currently under the DTI but will be transferred to the Office of the Ombudsman eventually. (There’s the rub. Can’t the existing lawyers at the Ombudsman do this? Are you saying right now, they are excluding or are not competent to cover investment policing? I know they are undermanned/underwomaned/ understaffed.)

My point of being is simple: this shows we are giving up on making these agencies work even without a watcher.

If we keep on believing our existing set up will not work by watching over them like nannies to little kids, and not by empowering them by sticking to honest, effective, humane and output-oriented civil service then they will never grow. One of these days we would need an ombudsman for barangay tanods.

Forgive me for being sarcastic to the point of being a cynic preachy. For me, the entrance of this ombudsman means we are giving up on our resolve to make systems of good governance work, by expecting them to be watched over with a separate watchdog for business. (Redundancy shows.)

I’m just a freebie blogger and a reporter of a shoestring news wire service. My opinion may not matter, but I just have to express it.

Thanks for honoring this post by reading up to this point.

About mindanaw

A Journalist from Mindanao

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