Mystery shopper, Mr. President?

IN this day and age of technology and digital platforms, community feedback is important to feel government's care for constituents. Before even considering digitization for the whole bureaucracy, it is critical that a feedback mechanism be in place. Complaints and feedback are a community engagement hub; without it, the people/taxpayers who are customers are not part of governance. With the hub, it helps government understand what is working well, whether changes need to be made and makes the people/taxpayers feel that they are important to the administration in power.

The feedback is a minimum condition to ensure that the Marcos administration knows what is happening on the ground unfiltered. It shows that they care and getting this up is the best way to see what problems need to be ironed out at the frontline services phase of governance. With technology and call center operations, the Marcos administration will be able to see both sides of the coin.

Effective feedback has benefits for the giver (government in terms of targeted announcement of programs), receiver (can be to all or may be strategic), and the whole of the bureaucracy. With these hubs, feedback is always there, it is effective listening, it can motivate, it can lead to improved performance, and it is a tool of continued learning. These five reasons ensures that government is not blindsided in the best and the worst of times.

There is no need to reinvent the wheel since in the previous administration via the 8888, also known as the Citizens' Complaint Hotline and the President's Hotline, a 24/7 national public service hotline was operated by the government of the Philippines. It was introduced on Aug. 1, 2016, by then President Duterte to allow the public to report poor government frontline service delivery and corrupt practices in all government agencies, GOCCs, government financial institutions and other instrumentalities of the government. The 8888 Citizens' Complaint Center was managed by the Office of the Executive Secretary, which coordinated with the government agency concerned for the prompt resolution of public grievances and to provide feedback on the action taken on citizens' concerns within 72 hours.

The experience before 8888 was that under Section 5 (a), Republic Act 6713, government officials and employees must reply to "letters, telegrams and other communication sent by the public within 15 days." With 8888, then Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea signed Memorandum Circular No. 44 which covered agencies and GOCCs performing frontline services. MC44 was a reiteration of RA 6713. Republic Act 9485, or the "Anti-Red Tape Act of 2007," defined frontline services as "transactions of clients involving application for any privilege, right, permit, reward, license or concession, or its modification, renewal or extension." The order was such that agencies and GOCCs will have to "respond to all public requests and concerns within 15 days from receipt, unless a shorter period is provided under applicable laws and issuances."

Duterte directed his Cabinet members to reduce the requirements and processing time of all applications. This is not hard lifting for President Marcos. You want people to feel your government, further institute 8888 and bring down your government to the household level. Yes, it could be a source of unmitigated complaints or even character assassinations but for so long as there is accountability and transparency, government will always be on its feet, ensuring feedback is part of its operations.

Today, there is even Republic Act 11032 or the "Anti Red-Tape Authority." Ease of doing business was its cornerstone but it seems there has been a relapse in the new administration that basic frontline services are again done in a very slow manner that even when citizens invoke the period, they are given a cold stare.

Take the case of these observations today from real people experiencing frontline services: It takes an entire day to get a driver's license, from medical test to printing the driver's license. And the "medical test" is not even a real test. It basically measured my height and that's it. Most of the time spent are just on queuing, waiting for medical result and more waiting to be served. The ratio of LTO manpower versus customers is so small. At the LTO extension office I went to, there were only five personnel to over 200 customers, and this was at a mall.

Queuing for a BIR Certificate Authorizing Registration (CAR) takes a whole day, and another 30 days of waiting to get the CAR itself. While queuing at the BIR office (Visayas), customers are made to wait outside in an unairconditioned waiting area. There are fans, but this is the Philippines so it is still very hot. And the over 30 days waiting period for a CAR, I think, violates ARTA and the memorandum issued by the previous BIR commissioner who stated it should be released in 7 business days.

When buying a piece of land, transferring a tax declaration to your name requires compliance to "a mile long" list. Looking at that list makes one feel lethargic and feels like just giving up.

Then there is a P140 that the BIR office asked for the photocopy. On the survey that they asked to submit upon claiming my eCAR, one of the questions was, "Did you pay for any fees without receipt?" Of course, the taxpayer answered "No" since no payment was made up to that point. It was only when the taxpayer handed them the survey and claim slip that the public employee asked for the photocopy fee of P140 without receipt. Forty days prior they asked the taxpayer to go to a third-party copier to make photocopies of all the original paperwork and submit both photocopies and original to them. All paperwork had already been photocopied. The amount is immaterial, it can add up with volume and length of practice.

Where is ARTA in all this? Shouldn't they be engaged in random "undercover operations" and really put frontline services personnel on their toes? How about adopting a mystery shopper program for the frontline services? One cannot digitize without learning from the customers and the customers in these cases are all taxpayers, 58 percent of which supported you.

There are a million or so people every day using government facilities and services, rating it and reforming based on customer relations is one way to fire all engines in the bureaucracy, right? One way to address the lethargic issue, right?


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