By Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat, May 2, 2022; Manila Bulletin 

Passage of an e-government law should be a priority of the next administration to ensure good governance and to make corruption a high-risk activity, according to a think-tank.

A special study “Governance agenda for development in a post-COVID-19 Philippines” presented by Stratbase ADR Institute trustee and program convenor, Dr. Francisco “Kiko” Magno, during the online forum “Beyond the Crisis: A Strategic Agenda for the Next President” noted that the pending e-Government Act aims to enable interoperability of data and processes to foster efficiency in the delivery of services.

According to Magno an e-government law would aid in the pursuit of a whole-of-government approach to manage the interdependencies across areas of government and among levels of implementation among government agencies. The proposed law will institutionalize processes that would make corrupt practices a high-risk activity.

“Corruption is not just a matter of having corrupt individuals. We have to consider the presence of corrupt systems,” Magno emphasized.

“Corruption prevention strategies should reduce monopolistic power, limit and clarify discretion, and promote accountability in governments. Corruption could be countered by converting it to a high-risk activity.”

He cited the Philippines’ dismal performance – 53rd out of 53 countries ranked – in Bloomberg’s COVID-19 Resilience Ranking for September 2021.

“The resulting analysis points to democratic backsliding and weak governance as the main contributory factors to the country’s poor pandemic performance,” he said.

Magno emphasized the importance of the e-Government as he pointed out that governance is measured through definite composite indicators, not mere rhetoric, and Filipinos need to elect candidates who actively pursue reforms and build strong institutions so that we can recover and eventually thrive in a post-pandemic world.

The pursuit of reforms and innovation is anchored on building strong institutions for citizen deliberation, participation, and oversight in the exercise of authority and the disbursement of public resources, Magno said.

“This would aid in the pursuit of a whole-of-government approach to manage the interdependencies across areas of government and among levels of implementation among government agencies.”

According to Dr. Magno, there are six Worldwide Governance Indicators (WGI), and the Philippines in 2021 fares unevenly in comparison with its neighbors in the ASEAN region in each of these respects.

“The WGI should guide the candidates vying for the presidency in developing a campaign platform that identify collective action mechanisms that promote improvements in its composite indicators,” he said.

Under the indicator voice and accountability, which pertains to perceptions of the extent to which a country’s citizens are able to participate in selecting their government as well as freedom of expression, freedom of association, and a free media, the Philippines ranked second to Indonesia among 10 Southeast Asian countries, primarily because of its being one of the eight founding countries of the Open Government Partnership in 2011.

In terms of political stability and absence of violence/terrorism – which captures perceptions of the likelihood of political instability or politically-motivated violence – the Philippine is in ninth place, just ahead of Myanmar.

“We are also in the lower rung of ASEAN in terms of government effectiveness, which refers to expediting government transactions,” he added.

In regulatory quality, which is the perception of the ability of the government to formulate and implement sound policies that permit and promote private sector development, the Philippines is in the middle of the pack, Magno said.

In observance of the rule of law, we are on seventh place, with our percentile performance on a downward spiral since 2016.

Finally, in the control of corruption, which captures perceptions of the extent to which public power is exercised for private gain, including petty and grand forms of corruption as well as capture of the state by elites and private interests, the Philippines is at the bottom half of ten Asian countries.

Meanwhile, Stratbase ADR Institute President Professor Victor Andres “Dindo” Manhit said the coming election is a great opportunity for Filipinos to set a course of the future of our country.

“At the core of that is a forward-looking governance outlook,” he said.

“We need to demand transparency, accountability and integrity in government. We should consider the character and capacity of those wooing our vote. Look at them, analyze where they stand — can they really be institution builders with the right understanding and vision for the Filipino nation?”

Other speakers who also presented their respective papers during the event are Ms. Zy-Za Nadine Suzara, Executive Director of iLEAD, Dr. Sherwin Ona, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science and Development Studies, De La Salle University-Manila, and Dr. Rizal Buendia, Philippine Country Expert, Global V-Dem Institute, University of Gothenburg, who is also a non-resident fellow for Stratbase ADR Institute.

The Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA) led by Secretary Jeremiah Belgica, has also been calling for the passage of the E-Governance Act.

The measure mandates the government to establish an integrated, interconnected, and interoperable information and resource-sharing and communications network spanning the entirety of the national and local government; an internal records management information system; an information database; and digital portals for the delivery of public services.

It also pushes for the digitization of paper-based and other traditional modes of workflows for a more efficient and transparent public service.

Belgica said the measure is aligned with ARTA’s vision to streamline and automate government processes for the public’s convenience, as well as their proposal to improve data-sharing among government agencies.