The cost of not having a DICT

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By Atty. Jocelle Batapa-Sique Since the first bill creating the Department for Information and Communications Technology (DICT) was proposed in 2004, its advocates have talked about its advantages. Now that the measure is very close to approval, it is about time we talk about the costs of not having a DICT. 1. Without a DICT, it is very difficult for the Philippines to have a stable telecommunications policy. Currently, any department with strong ties with the current administration has the opportunity to handle ICT programs and therefore acquire big chunks of the national budget to implement them. Without a central ICT body, government agencies can effectively take turns in handling large-scale ICT projects. Before it was the DOTC, then the DTI, then the DOST. Who knows? In 2016, these projects could very well be under the DSWD. Having a central ICT body allows for government to focus on the development of the telecommunications sector despite the changes in the political landscape every 3 or 6 years. Regardless of who is in power, the country will have a 20- or 30-year program that will be implemented. With a DICT, no President can ignore the ICT sector because it becomes part and parcel of the everyday affairs of government, very much like education, health, justice, and the environment. It will be viewed as a jobcreation sector, rather than a mere web-site troubleshooter. With unstable and ineffective telecommunications policies, unscrupulous personalities will find it easier to earn kickbacks and commissions since investors are driven to bribery just to get their projects in. However, there are still those who do not want the alternative-a clear, consistent policy regime for ICT. 2. Without a DICT, existing departments can almost justify any program as ICT-related and therefore receive budget allocations for them without any checks and balances or technical standards to adhere to. With a DICT, all existing government offices will be assisted and guided in their ICT-related needs. In turn, public funds programmed for ICT can be monitored more closely. There are those who do not want that. They would rather maintain this ?flexibility in ICT spending? to keep their discretion over undefined funds. 3. Without a DICT, large investments in ICT the country is already reaping in will be biased towards Metro Manila. Although Next-Wave Cities have been identified, the usual scenario remains-far-flung provinces are bypassed due to the perception that these have neither the qualified manpower for ICT jobs nor the necessary infrastructure. Once a dedicated ICT body is created, regional offices will be set up to cascade ICT programs and projects, thereby spreading opportunities for development throughout the countryside. With a DICT, ICT programs will be more or less uniform and equitably implemented throughout the nation. If the status quo remains, then ICT development and the broad-based economic growth it could cultivate will be difficult to achieve since projects will happen only in places where leaders are more resourceful if not closer to the administration. 4. Without a DICT, planners and bureaucrats based in Manila have no incentive to consult with regional stakeholders in setting up standards and deciding how and where government funds earmarked for ICT must be used. With a DICT, the regional offices will be in a better position to tap local stakeholders on how to best spend government’s resources, on how to jumpstart human resource development throughout the countryside, and on how to create investor ecosystems for technopreneurs outside of the country’s major cities. 5. Without a DICT, we keep ourselves out of the league of Asian countries who are already key players in the global ICT market. These neighbors-like Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam-have cabinet level ministries and departments dedicated to ICT development. With a DICT, we can help cultivate more ICT-related industries. While our contact centers are already flourish, opportunities are expanding for other IT-BPO businesses such as in software development, animation, health IT and other high-value industries. Without this agency, it’s free for all. Some would call this a happier scenario – no government direction, no intervention. Only big capitalists and foreign companies will be able to boldly go into the IT-BPO business. Small Filipino start-ups-coming from their respective towns and barangays, without anything except their bright ideas – will be hard-pressed to realize their visions, unlike their Silicon Valley counterparts. 6. Without a DICT, government will never have comprehensive access to vital information that could have great use for the economic progress of this country. At the same time, everyday citizens will remain disempowered to ask more intelligent questions and make more intelligent choices. What would have been an engaged and empowered middle-class will remain disconnected if the ICT sector is not developed to become more citizen-centric. With a DICT, transparency and accountability-perhaps two of the foremost causes this administration is championing-will become matters as simple as a text message, an email, or even a mouse-click. That scenario is dangerous to a body politic where the wealthy have an upper hand. The costs of not having a DICT may not be apparent to some. But clearly the status quo has to be changed if the country is to achieve breakthrough growth and transition into an ICT-driven economy. If we wish to predict our country’s future prosperity, then all the more should we establish a DICT today. (The author is the chairperson of the National ICT Confederation of the Philippines) ]]>

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