The National ID System & The Digitization of Government Bureaucracy

The government should seize the opportunity with the implementation of the national ID system to design an information and communications framework for the interconnection of government departments and agencies from the national to the local level to include the LGUs.

Congress finally passed the National ID System into law this year. The bill had been pending in both houses of Congress since the Ramos administration. Despite having a majority in both houses, every administration up to Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo couldn't get the enabling law passed because of objections within the ruling coalition. Foremost of these was that government could use it as a tool of oppression and persecution which is a bad hangover from the martial law experience.

In his first and second SONA's the President made clear and reiterated that one of the priority items in his national agenda is streamlining government. Another is the anti-corruption drive which is part and parcel of all candidates who have run for the Presidency since 1992. Three years into his administration the President has been dogged by corruption scandals involving his hand-picked appointees. He has also been waving the white flag of late claiming that the bureaucratic rot is so pervasive that even he can't make any headway against it.

In the midst of all of these there has never been an instance when the President mentioned the adoption of information and communications technology as a frontline tool in the fight against corruption and bureaucratic reform.

The same is true with the newly created Department of Information and Communications Technology. Researching for this piece, the writer didn't find any material at all on the DICT website which refers to even a semblance of a digitization roadmap. Googling the same topic had the same result. This means that aside from the PhilGeps initiative for government procurement not any single government department or agency has any plans for a digitization strategy.

The government should seize the opportunity with the implementation of the national ID system to design an information and communications framework for the interconnection of government departments and agencies from the national to the local level to include the local government units.
Several government agencies already maintain a large database of Filipino citizens. There is the Comelec with its voters list. The PSA with the population census. The SSS and the GSIS for pension funds. The DFA for passports. The LTO for vehicle ownership. The Professional Regulation Commission for practicing professionals. The BIR for individual taxpayers and the city and municipal assessors for those who own real property.

These information troves can be consolidated and parsed for information which can serve as the basis for the national ID database. Citizens would still need to apply for the national ID for photo and biometric capture. I assume both will be integrated in the national ID card along with an EMV chip to prevent identity theft.

The next logical step is for an integrated digital infrastructure for the government bureaucracy in order to maximize the benefits of the national ID system. Technological developments have made building the infrastructure easier. Databases can be hosted on the cloud unlike in the past when physical servers were utilized for data storage.

The government can make transactions with the public more convenient because it can be done online instead of physically going to the offices of government departments and agencies. Corruption can also be minimized because there would be less physical interaction with government employees. A payment system can also be developed which would enable the public to pay online. The same system can be used by government for its vendors and completely automate the government procurement system. Red tape will also be minimized if not eliminated.

The DICT should take the lead in this effort in order to spur economic growth. The other ASEAN 5 countries are again ahead of the Philippines in this development goal. The key to this is internet connectivity.

Thailand's digitization strategy aims to achieve 95% connectivity by 2023. The Thai government has established a Digital Government Academy which will have students focusing on big data analytics and artificial intelligence as their main fields of study. The Thais are projecting that this investment in digital platforms will start contributing 25% to its annual economic growth by 2030.

Their Initiative has generated positive reactions from the large e-commerce companies in the region. Online retailer Lazada is building a digital hub where developers will work on improving its operations and generate ideas for new business platforms.

Alibaba, Lazada's parent company, has also made a commitment to build a regional e-trade distribution center for Thailand to serve as the gateway to Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia and Vietnam.

The DICT should act now. A digitization strategy is badly needed for the Philippines to play catch up with its regional neighbors.

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About the Author
RG is a seasoned international trade and sales and marketing professional who also dabbles in writing. He was a contributor to Business World in the mid-90s and is also a tech geek.
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