Friday, November 28, 2008

Do we need an IT Commission?

This article was first published in Sun.Star last July 10, 2003.


HUGE FUND. Did you know that the government recently mandated all agencies to use one percent to two percent of maintenance, operating expenses and capital outlay to fund e-government projects in support of the mandate of the E-Commerce Law. It is estimated that this could reach from P1 billion to P3 billion. That is good news indeed.

However, if there’s one thing that troubles me and several friends, it is how come this administration is so eager, especially the Information Technology and Electronic Commerce Council (ITECC), to push for the creation of a Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT).

The common reason used to justify the creation of DICT is that we have lagged behind our neighbor countries for not having one. My question is, does having a DICT make us better or less of a nation? Will the creation of this department create jobs and put food on our table? Can it perform tasks that none of our existing government agencies can do? Whose agenda is really being satisfied here?

In the process of pushing it in Congress, there were lawmakers contesting it and even arguing that there are far more important departments that need to be created.

To overcome this stumbling block, the President recently created a technical working group to draft the guidelines for an IT Commission within 30 days.

Some functions to be performed by the IT Commission, if created, are the management of government IT projects and identifying where the P1 billion to P3 billion for e-government would be spent. Whether it is constitutionally possible for a department to decide on where the savings of its peer government departments can be spent, rather than the department secretary or Congress, remains to be seen.

If we don’t have a growing budget deficit, by all means, create the departments you like.

However, with limited resources, it is better that money be spent prudently and by the government agencies that need it the most. What can be done instead is to restructure or realign the mandate of existing government agencies like the National Computer Center to allow it to perform better. The same goes for the National Telecommunications Commission.

NO DEBATE. Another concern is the lack of interest by the Itecc to debate this issue. Last year, the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) was supposed to organize a debate on the merits of a DICT. Since MAP is not an IT organization, the debate would have been held on neutral ground.

The No group, to have been led by BayanTrade’s Carol Carreon, tapped peers in the industry to put a strong position together. Atty. JJ Disini, former Department of Trade and Industry assistant secretary Toby Monsod and I exchanged email messages contributing issue points why DICT is not the way to our desired progress.

When the organizers were finally scheduling the date, the Yes camp backed out for fear that such a debate might endanger its DICT proposal. If Itecc is not even confident enough to defend its bill, then it puts a lot of doubt on its real intent.

But as my friend told me: “Don’t waste your time. It is a done deal.”