More than 1,000 entrepreneurs, mostly representing small and medium enterprises (SMEs), were consulted by the government on how the government can sustain the economy’s high growth and make it more inclusive, during the series of regional “Sulong Pilipinas” workshops held last month, the Department of Finance (DOF) said.

DOF Assistant Secretary Antonio Joselito Lambino II said the new town hall-type forums adopted in the Sulong events held in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao this year came up with not only the private sector’s Top 10 actionable recommendations, but also a set of suggested actions on how the government can accomplish such proposals.

Reporting to Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III during a recent DOF Executive Committee (Execom) meeting, Lambino said these Sulong workshops, which the Duterte administration conducts every year to involve the private sector in finetuning its socioeconomic reform agenda, were held in Cebu City in the Visayas on Nov. 9; San Fernando City, La Union on Nov. 14 and at the Clark Freeport Zone on Nov. 26, which represent the Luzon leg; and in Davao City in Mindanao on Nov. 28.

Lambino, who has been involved in Sulong Pilipinas since it was first held in Davao City in June 2016 during the transition period for then-incoming President Duterte, said improving agricultural productivity and raising farmers’ incomes through education and the use of new farm technologies emerged as the No.1 actionable recommendation from the private sector in all the four “Sulong” events.

To make this recommendation “actionable,” Lambino said representatives from SMEs and other businesses proposed that the design and management of the Department of Agriculture (DA)’s programs and projects be reevaluated “to ensure that these are successful in achieving our desired objectives.”

The other top recommendations from the four Sulong events were: building more physical infrastructure such as seaports, airports and mass-based transport systems; simplifying requirements for loans with reasonable interest rates for SMEs and the rural sector; improving access to education, especially for the poor; implementing stricter profiling of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) recipients and providing them livelihood training; speeding up the processing and issuance by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of licenses and certificates of product registration;

Properly planning infrastructure projects to reduce disruptions in business operations; simplifying processes at the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR); and improving peace and order by ensuring police and military visibility in rural areas, intensively monitoring illegal trade activities in coastal areas, and continuing the implementation of martial law in Mindanao; improving health services in every part of the country by building more health centers and hospitals, which will help decongest district hospitals; providing tax incentives to micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), and streamlining government processes and reducing red tape.

Lambino said among the suggested actions proposed by the private sector include appointing soon a director-general for the Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA), so that the implementing rules and regulations of the Ease of Doing Business Act can be issued and the provisions under this law can be set in motion soon enough.

The private sector also suggested converging the various livelihood programs of the 4Ps to monitor efforts and avoid duplication, given that different agencies such as the Departments of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) along with the Technical Skills Education and Development Authority (TESDA) all have separate jobs programs for program beneficiaries, Lambino said.

On the implementation of infrastructure projects, the private sector suggested that the “Build, Build, Build” team come up with a better way of disseminating information on the schedule of construction to minimize disruptions in business operations.

Lambino said that several of the “Top 10″ actionable recommendations for this year are already being implemented and will continue to be improved by the government such as the simplification of BIR processes; reduction of red tape, which will be further enhanced with the implementation of the Ease of Doing Business (EODB) Law; construction of more physical infrastructure via the “Build, Build, Build” program; and enhancement of peace and order.

The rest of the recommendations will be thoroughly studied and acted upon “with as much seriousness as we have done in the past,” Dominguez had told the media after the Davao event.

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