Modernizing life in PHL

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated January 27, 2013 – 12:00am

Illustration by REY RIVERA

I like asking “what if” questions, especially do when I encounter inefficiency and old ways of doing things that fail to deliver what needs to be done. Yesterday, I saw on the news how businessmen had to go back and forth to a City Hall for five days to simply get a business permit for 2013. City Hall’s excuse is that they are undermanned. They can only process 1,500 permits a day when there are over 65,000 businesses in the city. Their solution is to extend the registration period. Hello? What is so complicated about adding more staff to accommodate everyone?

Having the privilege of living parttime in Sydney makes my impatience all the more intense when I hear such stories. I remember applying for a business permit in Australia that took all of about seven minutes, even when the guy on the desk cautioned that it would take some time. Little did I know he meant there would be a slight waiting period of a few minutes. I also love the fact that I can pay my bills, renew my car’s registration, declare my taxes, through the net or even through my cellphone.

I am a big fan of modernity and despite my dislike for China’s totalitarian ways, I admire how quickly they build infrastructure or introduce changes. At the same time, I find myself utterly dismayed at how a great democracy like the US can be bogged by internal fighting and let things go to rot.

Surely, there must be a way to make democracy work faster in this age of social connectivity. Surely, there must be a more accurate way to get consensus on opinions of people on issues, to speed up delivery of government services.

Here are my not-yet–too-well-thought out suggestions on how we can improve and enhance our present practice of democracy and governance in the Philippines. I have seen some of them work very well in other countries. Maybe a few people out there can figure out the nuts and bolts of how to do these.

1) Establish a way to get people’s reactions/opinions on issues of the day quickly and accurately.

How? By observing and following social media discussions. There are now over 30 million Filipinos on Facebook, and Twitter is not far behind. It is an informal but accurate way of knowing how people feel about issues and personalities. It is cyber-democratic.

We can also use surveys conducted by reputable organizations (verified and authorized) which can give government and all institutions a clear picture of how their constituents feel about the services they offer. I am not suggesting that survey results be necessarily followed all the time. They should not. But they can give indications about resistance to or approval of certain ideas. This way, legislators can quickly review proposed bills to accommodate these and re-craft them faster. And yes, surveys must be conducted constantly and more often.

China does this all the time and it gives the government an idea of how people feel. Its totalitarian government, for fear of being toppled quickly responds and defuses tension if they have to, even if often in the ways dictatorships do.

Imagine how this can serve a democratic government such as ours. Leaders can respond faster and in a more calibrated manner. It saves a lot of time debating, arguing and speculating whether people approve or disapprove, or will go or not go with proposals and measures. And this need not be used in just a reactive way. A leader can best analyze what he/she needs to do to convince people in supporting currently unpopular but important steps needed by the nation.

2) Promote solar energy nationwide.

In Australia, the solar panels you see on rooftops of homes produce electricity that are fed back to the main grid. The power your house generates is in turn bought by the electric company and is deducted from your own consumption of electricity.

By adopting this here, we will be doing three good things. Firstly, potentially every home and building can be a producer of electricity. Think of how much power we can all generate in this mostly sunny country that can be put to productive use. Secondly, we will prevent the release of a lot of carbon emissions, and thus avoid pollution because we will not be burning fossil fuels to produce electricity. Thirdly, in the medium and long term, consumers will be saving a lot of money.

3) Most if not all citizen-government transactions involving payments for licenses, renewals, taxes, copies of documents, etc. must be made possible online.

Throw in the payment of utilities bills, too. We will all be amazed at how quickly these simple but necessary transactions can be done. It will save time, human energy, gasoline and a lot of other inefficiencies. Most importantly, since it will largely eliminate the need for physical presence, it will surely reduce a lot of bribery and corruption.

4) We must finally and properly segregate and rationalize garbage disposal and collection.

This can be done if every home is provided with two government standard garbage bins. One will be for the disposal of recyclables such as paper, cartons, tin cans, bottles, etc. The other will be for perishables such as kitchen stuff (leftovers, rotting food, e.g.), cut grass and plants and general trash.

It is important that garbage bins are standardized for two reasons: first, it makes collection and disposal easier for the city. Second, homes will learn to produce less garbage since only those in the officially issued bins will be picked up and collected. In Australia, perishable garbage is collected weekly. The recyclables on the other hand are gathered every fortnight. They are not mixed since two separate trucks collect them. Much of the recyclables end up in recycling plants.

5) Lastly, vehicles over, say, seven years old should have roadworthiness certification before being allowed to register.

In Australia, the way this works is, any car over three years old must be inspected by a certified mechanic who will attest that all signal lights, brakes, etc. are all working properly. If the mechanic is ever investigated and found to have made a less-than-accurate report, he loses his license and is fined heavily. The owner of the car will be fined heavily too and the car will not be deemed fit for the road.

This way, no truck or vehicle driver can claim to have “lost his brakes,” which is the usual reason given during accidents. Vehicle owner, driver and mechanic will be accountable. This alone will prevent a lot of mayhem on the road.

And while we are at it, let’s have stringent drunk driving laws and give very heavy penalties for violators.

It’s time we look at democracy and governance like software. They need to be constantly upgraded in this ever fast moving and complex societies we live in. You can’t govern with an MS Dos system or platform when the citizenry already run their lives on OS 10+.

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So you got a new DSLR during the holidays. Start taking great pix right away. Enroll now. My first photography workshop for 2013 happens this Feb. 9, 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Bulb Studios, 2231 Pasong Tamo Street, Molave Compound. Cost is P3,920 (VAT inclusive).

If you live in Singapore, I will have a photo workshop there on Feb 23. Call +6582336595 and look for Earla regarding details and reservation.

For information, call 0916-855-4303 or e-mail jpfotojim@gmail.