Small business in difficulty | Opinion of the applicant

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It’s that time of year again when many small business owners find themselves throwing their hands in anguish over all the paperwork and legwork they need to do to renew their business licenses and update tax and regulatory requirements. Years ago, a young entrepreneur asked me in exasperation, “Why does our government seem determined to put every obstacle it can think of in the way of small business?” He was unhappy with how he had to spend too much time dealing with all the rules, regulations and paperwork required by various government offices, rather than being able to devote his valuable time to running the business.

This time I encounter the problem more directly. I hear the same rants again, this time from my associate who actively runs a business we started with a group of friends in a nearby town a while ago. With the Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus raging around us, our poor office assistant has unnecessarily risked infection by doing a lot of legwork at various government offices – the local town hall, the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and other agencies from which a company like ours must obtain permits. You would think that two years into this pandemic, and well into the digital age, these offices would have already provided systems to eliminate or minimize the steps to comply with their requirements. Yet over the past year we have had to contend with at least one office still having to physically do everything on its premises, even as the pandemic has reduced its frontline services with some of its staff working from home. Regardless, traveling from where our company is located to their Metro Manila office is an expensive proposition in terms of time, effort and money. Their excuse? “We still don’t have the capacity to install an online system.” Such dinosaurs should not be part of a government whose avowed mission is to serve the public (that’s why they are called public servants!) and to enable economic activity, upon which the taxes of their wages depend.

Many of us know what this annual ordeal looks like. Along with City Hall, my personal pet peeve is the fire safety clearance, which many local firefighters have turned into a painful joke. You can only buy or refill your fire extinguisher from their local “accredited” supplier, and in many places there is only one – a sanctioned monopoly with a captive market (in complete violation of the law Philippine on the competition, I must add). Then you find out that even if it was never used, their fire extinguisher would have lost its charge within a year (I’ve read that they’re supposed to be good for up to six). Fire safety? Sounds more like false security to me.

Next, it must be proven to the DOLE that the employees’ 13th month salary has been paid. But what has taken over is BIR’s annual ritual of recording the company’s books. Our office assistant had to wait in line for the submission because our regular accountant had contracted COVID-19. And when we asked the BIR if we could get an extension because of it, they said we had to write a formal letter, have it notarized, and submit it with a company secretary certificate (oh, don’t like- we don’t all do the paperwork!). Otherwise, we would have to pay the heavy fine. So we sent our assistant to the BIR office early, where she put number 50 in the queue, but since only 20 are allowed in at a time, she ended up waiting in the sun all morning. She finally got her turn later in the day, practically a lost day of work. (We later learned that the same office had closed for a few days due to a confirmed case of COVID-19 in staff.)

There are many more such stories to tell, and readers have sent me countless similar stories in the past. If our economy had lagged behind our peer neighbors for many years (we now have the lowest average income among our ASEAN-5 peers), the clue lies in my friend’s question: why does our government seem determined to make things difficult for struggling small businesses? contractors?

It’s time for government to stop being a burden and instead help businesses like itss create jobs, improve lives and boost the economy.

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