World Bank urges PHL to ac­cel­er­ate dig­i­tal­iza­tion drive


THERE is an urgent need for the Philip­pines to ac­cel­er­ate the de­vel­op­ment of its dig­i­tal in­fra­struc­ture to has­ten the dig­i­tal­iza­tion of its econ­omy and nar­row the gap in the dig­i­tal di­vide among its cit­i­zens, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent study by the World Bank.

The re­port points out that there is a big gap in coun­try’s dig­i­tal di­vide with nearly 60 per­cent of house­holds not hav­ing ac­cess to the In­ter­net, mak­ing them un­able to reap the ben­e­fits of dig­i­tal­iza­tion. “As a re­sult, face-to-face in­ter­ac­tions and ana­log prac­tices are still per­va­sive in the coun­try mak­ing so­cial dis­tanc­ing eco­nom­i­cally costly,” cites the Philip­pines Dig­i­tal Econ­omy Re­port 2020.

Launched on Oc­to­ber 25, the re­port shows that the gov­ern­ment can ef­fec­tively use dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy to em­power its con­stituents and de­liver ser­vices, if in­sti­tu­tions that guar­an­tee ac­count­abil­ity are es­tab­lished and strength­ened.

More­over, cash and checks are still the main meth­ods of pay­ment while ap­ply­ing for per­mits and li­censes typ­i­cally re­quires ex­change of doc­u­ments in per­son. The study re­ports that peo­ple wait­ing in long lines is typ­i­cal for Filipinos seek­ing to se­cure goods and ser­vices.

The re­port also points out that the Philip­pines per­formed worse than its re­gional peers in dig­i­tal adop­tion by the gov­ern­ment. The Philip­pines lags most re­gional peers in high-speed fixed and mo­bile broad­band pen­e­tra­tion.

To im­prove the coun­try’s dig­i­tal in­fra­struc­ture and con­nec­tiv­ity, the re­port rec­om­mends mea­sures such as greater pri­vate sec­tor par­tic­i­pa­tion to in­vest in the Philip­pine dig­i­tal in­fra­struc­ture.

Us­ing dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies will im­prove the mon­i­tor­ing of gov­ern­ment work­ers and gov­ern­ment­funded or­ga­ni­za­tions that de­liver ser­vices and help cur­tail ab­sen­teeism, op­er­a­tional in­ef­fi­cien­cies, and cor­rup­tion, it says.

“Dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies can also im­prove elec­toral ac­count­abil­ity, help un­cover elec­tion fraud, and re­duce elec­tion-re­lated vi­o­lence. Au­toma­tion in busi­ness reg­u­la­tions, ci­ti­zen feed­back sys­tems, and pro­cure­ment sys­tems also re­duce the risk of cor­rup­tion and poor ser­vices,” the World Bank re­port states.

Mean­while, Globe Pres­i­dent and CEO Ernest Cu said dur­ing the launch of the study that he agrees with the rec­om­mended key re­forms and pol­icy mea­sures to help the Philip­pines lever­age dig­i­tal­iza­tion for eco­nomic and so­cial re­silience, es­pe­cially in the face of the Covid-19 pan­demic.

Cu said that down­load speeds for fixed broad­band have been im­prov­ing par­tially due to in­creased cap­i­tal ex­pen­di­tures and net­work im­prove­ments by tele­com com­pa­nies.

Cit­ing the Au­gust 2020 Opensignal re­port, he said there was “a sub­stan­tial 80.9-per­cent in­crease in down­load speeds and 4G avail­abil­ity, ris­ing 19.5 per­cent­age points from 63.75 per­cent to 83 per­cent over a pe­riod of 2.5 years.”

The Opensignal re­port showed that mo­bile 4G avail­abil­ity in the Philip­pines has been in­creas­ing for at least two and half years, and near­ing the global av­er­age of 86.8 per­cent.

In­de­pen­dent think tank Strat­base ADR In­sti­tute Pres­i­dent Prof. Vic­tor An­dres Man­hit said in a statement that the gov­ern­ment should cre­ate an em­pow­er­ing pol­icy and reg­u­la­tory agenda to ex­ten­sively ex­pand ac­cess to broad­band ser­vices to all Filipinos.

“Har­ness­ing the ex­per­tise and re­sources of the pri­vate sec­tor will greatly ac­cel­er­ate the pace of op­er­a­tional­iz­ing these tech­nolo­gies that we must now rely on be­cause of the health and eco­nomic cri­sis,” he said.

“The dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tion of the gov­ern­ment bu­reau­cracy will have a game-chang­ing im­pact that will have sys­temic ben­e­fits that will go way be­yond the pan­demic cri­sis,” Man­hit added.

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