The beast in the bureaucracy

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By Jun Ledesma


Friday, February 21, 2014

BELIEVE it or not but in the Philippines where supply of electricity is extremely short and one of the most expensive commodity in Asia, it takes five to seven years to process an application to set up a biomass plant compared to an average of 18 months to set up one. This came out during the presscon at Minda-USAid-sponsored forum on sustainable and renewable energy in Mindanao.

When I asked the resource persons why this anomaly happens and why it appears that government appears to be the principal deterrent factor in the quest for additional power in energy-thirsty Mindanao one of the resource person managed to come out with a brave answer: "It's because of the ‘beautiful’ bureaucracy we have."

I do not want to name him but am sure you will read about his remarks which I elicited. I felt guilty because even before the presscon ended he begged to be excused. I just hope that he will not lose his job for an honest remark.


Bureaucratic interventions have come in the way of countless undertakings leading to unconscionable delays in the implementation of plans. This is compounded by insatiable Pacmen in the government who mulct money from investors. Remember “Pacman” an arcade video game released in the 1980s by Namco of Japan? 

The character ravenously eats all the pellets that comes its way and it, or is it a he, best describes the hungry detergents in the bureaucracy. Close relatives of Pacman in our government are the “Kronies” during the Marcos dictatorship, “Kamaganak” Incorporated during the Cory Aquino regime, “Kasiping” during the Arroyo era and KKK or “Kapartido, Kabarilan, Kaibigan” under the present dispensation.  

Under the present administration even in levity you cannot dispense with the truth. For why on earth should an application for a sustainable renewable energy project take eternity? I have my misgivings on ability of the Department of Energy to rev up interest of capitalists in the energy sector given the very “promising” Secretary who unabashedly held on to his post despite his oft-repeated oath to resign if he cannot light up Leyte but then I may just have to sympathize with the guy who might be a victim of the bureaucracy where he is part of.

The biomass power producers aim to build up a capacity of 750 megawatts for Mindanao. 

That is enough buffer in case the water levels in Lanao and Bukidnon that run Agus and Polangi hydro plants diminish during summer time. It shock me however to learn that all these plans are still pipedreams. The industry players are confident they can set up the plants in 18 months…that is if their incorporators and capitalists are still alive given the bureaucratic red tapes.

At the rate Mindanao is growing, the present capacities will no longer be sufficient comes 2016. Davao is lucky we have Aboitiz Power but woe to the other parts of Mindanao which will be reeling again in unavoidable rotating brownouts. Already we are approaching an emergency situation. 

If by simple sense and sensibility our government cares then it should cut 90 percent of the red tape that is deterring power generations projects. Imagine the impact of sufficiency of power in Mindanao if it takes only 60 days to process the application and 180 days to put up the plant and keep it running!!??

Of what good is the Minda-USAid initiatives if some Pacmen in the government finds beauty in the bureaucracy? It is ironic that we suffer from shortage of energy when Mindanao have so much resources  from the bowels of its earth, cascading rivers,  biomass from our vast agricultural and marsh lands, lakes, wind and abundant sun.  What kind of beasts do we have in the bureaucracy that we cannot fry them in scorching heat of our sun, drown them in our lakes and bury them in the depths of the earth?

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on February 21, 2014.


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