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Integrate data and info systems, strengthen coordination in gov’t to deal with COVID-19 and other crises—PIDS

THE lack of accurate information on beneficiaries and poor coordination across different levels of government are among the major issues that surfaced during the pandemic.
 
This is according to Aubrey Tabuga, Sonny Domingo, Charlotte Justine Sicat, and Valerie Gilbert Ulep, researchers at state think tank Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS), in their discussion paper titled “Innovating Governance: Building Resilience Against COVID-19 Pandemic and Other Risks”.
 
The authors identified the “lack of citizen information” as one of the major challenges in the implementation of the Emergency Subsidy Program or the Social Amelioration Program (SAP) provided under the government’s Bayanihan to Heal as One Act of 2020.
 
They noted that the “unavailable, unvalidated, or poor-quality data on citizens” is one of the top causes of delay in the timely distribution of government assistance to target beneficiaries.
 
This is compounded by the varying processes of local government units (LGUs) in identifying target recipients and the “lack of reliable lists and databases for SAP validation and accountability” in communities.
 
Another issue is the lack of coordination and misalignment of plans and actions between the different levels of government.

According to the study, the weak coordination between the national and local governments led to the violation of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) guidelines on social distancing and mass gathering.
 
To address these gaps, the study urged the government to examine and learn from the best practices of its Southeast Asian peers.
 
For instance, South Korea has a policy on complete openness and transparency in data sharing to identify affected individuals. Singapore has a package of restrictions and new rules combined with harsh sanctions to control the new wave of cases called ‘circuit breaker’.
 
Meanwhile, Taiwan has integrated the travel records of its citizens into its national health insurance database to monitor patients’ travel history. Viet Nam has imposed strict entry and work permit bans on both local and foreign nationals.
 
Also, the authors pointed out that these countries used their experiences to build their information systems, allow for complementary laws and guidelines to work around data privacy and trust issues, and integrate databases such as immigration and health insurance records for ease of determination of travel history of patients.
 
Moreover, their governments were proactive in dealing with the pandemic by immediately recognizing the threat early on and closing borders. They also demonstrated innovativeness in creating the necessary systems and applications to facilitate contact tracing and stop the transmission of disease.
 
Some LGUs in the Philippines have also introduced innovations and reforms that their counterparts can adopt.
 
For example, the mayor of Marikina City initiated the opening of a testing center in his locality to treat infected residents at the earliest stage of the disease and isolate them.
 
The mayor of Pasig City has also rolled out various initiatives such as contact tracing, deployment of disinfectant drones, and conversion of hotels into quarantine facilities.  He also launched the “mobile palengke” program to minimize the number of people crowding at public marketplaces and assist those who have no access to transportation.
 
The authors underscored some lessons that the country can draw from both local and international experiences to be able to enhance its governance systems and structures.
 
First, it has to establish an integrated information system and data interoperability in all levels of government. This will improve data collection and information sharing, which are crucial to speed up the distribution of government’s assistance to its intended beneficiaries. The Philippine Identification System Act (Republic Act [RA] 11055) and the Free Internet Access in Public Places Act (RA 10929) are among the government’s initiatives to achieve this objective.
 
Second, it needs to strengthen the coordination and linkages among different government levels and across local governments. It is essential to align and harmonize plans and policies from top to bottom to ensure the effective implementation of measures against the pandemic and other risks.
 
The 6th Annual Public Policy Conference (APPC) features institutional reforms and innovations in a webinar scheduled on September 17, 2020. Other webinars are slated for September 15, 22, and 24 on other topics related to governance innovation.
 
The APPC is the main and culminating activity of the Development Policy Research Month (DPRM) celebration led by PIDS every September. The DPRM aims to promote awareness and understanding of the importance of policy research in formulating evidence-based policies, plans, and programs.

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