The Concept of “Considerate Accountability”

consumer rights - times of malta

[Photo source: Times of Malta]

A few blogs ago, I pointed out that legislators and regulators are in bed with lawmakers and so ordinary Philippine consumers get a runaround (“Regulatory incest in the Philippines“). Consumers have no power other than a vote every few years. Therefore, the Philippine economy is held back because consumers are not empowered to demand change, or to punish those government agencies and businesses that harm them.

Legislators are supposed to take care of the people, but they are a part of the force restraining consumers. They are in bed with business owners.

I proposed that a “Consumers Ombudsman” function be established to give citizens a voice in affairs between elections.

One of the concepts that I think ought to be formalized in the law books of the Philippines is what I would call “Considerate Accountability”. Here’s what it means:

  • If a government agency requires citizens to complete certain tasks, the government is responsible for providing reasonable access to the services needed to complete those tasks.

For example, if a government agency commonly requires photocopies of documents being processed on the spot, it ought to provide a photocopy machine. It ought not demand that the consumer go down the street to find a photocopy machine to complete the government-mandated process.

If the LTO requires a medical examination, it ought not require consumers to line up in a congested government hospital to get their eyes certified, at considerable waste of time and money, and interfering with health care the hospital could be providing to sick people. The LTO should allow private doctors to provide the tests or assign the job to a clinic conveniently nearby. Failing to do that, the LTO should waive the requirement.

If government agencies require NBI clearances, then the NBI should be staffed and equipped to meet the demand without forcing citizens to wait an undue amount of time in multiple lines. It is bad enough to presume all Filipinos are guilty of something and have to be cleared. Rather than assuming they are innocent. Stop making them carry a heavy burden of proving innocence.

The way is is now, citizens are punished and given the runaround to fulfill mandates assigned by the government. In what other organization does the employee tell the boss so offensively what to do? The citizen is boss of the government, is he not? As I recollect, that’s what President Aquino has been saying over and over again.

The same principle should also be extended to the private sector. That is, a “customer service” mandate should be written into law to prevent abusive practices like bait and switch advertising, where customers are lured in by special promotion and then switched to a more expensive product in-store. Or stop the practice of inspecting goods in-store as a way to pass the problem of defective merchandise off to the consumer.

No, no. The retail store should be accountable for breakage, or hold its wholesaler accountable. The burden of poor manufacturing or sloppy handling ought not be passed to the consumer. The consumer should simply trust that what is sold to him is of good quality and will work. As packaged. Return of defective goods should be a consumer right.

Considerate accountability.

Excessive commercials on TV, turning up the volume on commercials, or piling them up at the climax of a show? Stop it.

The accountability for abuses ought to rest clearly with service providers. The costs, inconveniences and problems ought not always be pushed onto the always-obedient and ohhhh so patient consumer.

A Consumer Ombudsman would take the initiative to draft the required law.

  • Enough of the relentless abuse of Philippine consumers.
  • Enough of the power-mongering by government offices and businesses.

A little more consideration, please.

A little more accountability for taking care of Filipinos.

Please.

Addendum

Following is the American model, as summarized by Wiki. It may be wise to look at California’s law as a “best practices” example.

In the United States a variety of laws at both the federal and state levels regulate consumer affairs. Among them are the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, Truth in Lending Act, Fair Credit Billing Act, and the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act. Federal consumer protection laws are mainly enforced by the Federal Trade Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and the U.S. Department of Justice.

At the state level, many states have adopted the Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act including, but not limited to, Delaware,Illinois, Maine, and Nebraska. The deceptive trade practices prohibited by the Uniform Act can be roughly subdivided into conduct involving either a) unfair or fraudulent business practice and b) untrue or misleading advertising. The Uniform Act contains a private remedy with attorneys fees for prevailing parties where the losing party “willfully engaged in the trade practice knowing it to be deceptive”. Uniform Act §3(b). Also, the majority of states have a Department of Consumer Affairs devoted to regulating certain industries and protecting consumers who use goods and services from those industries. For example, in California, the California Department of Consumer Affairs regulates about 2.3 million professionals in over 230 different professions, through its forty regulatory entities. In addition, California encourages its consumers to act as private attorneys general through the liberal provisions of its Consumers Legal Remedies Act,

California has the strongest consumer protection laws of any US state, partly because of rigorous advocacy and lobbying by groups such as Utility Consumers’ Action Network, Consumer Federation of California and Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

Other states have been the leaders in specific aspects of consumer protection. For example Florida, Delaware and Minnesota have legislated requirements that contracts be written at reasonable readability levels as a large proportion of contracts cannot be understood by most consumers who sign them.

 

Comments
21 Responses to “The Concept of “Considerate Accountability””
  1. Micha says:

    Thank you Joe for bringing out this topic.

    There are currently two mega projects under consideration by the national gov’t. One is the Cavite-Laguna Expressway and the other is the North-South Commuter Railway.

    Since both are undertaken by the national gov’t (DOTC is the implementing agency), I do not understand why part of the funding has to be outsourced from private entities.

    “Transportation Secretary Joseph Abaya told reporters last week that they were studying a hybrid PPP structure for the railway deal, meaning part of the project that aims to link Malolos in Bulacan to Calamba in Laguna, will be funded by the government and the rest by the private sector.”

    http://business.inquirer.net/173848/govt-readies-auction-of-biggest-ppp

    The obvious and common answer you will normally get is that the gov’t does not have enough money. But then that is belied by the Secretary himself, a few paragraph below the news article :

    “The important thing is you can bring in government. And the government has funds, Abaya said.”

    I can smell gangster racket for bringing in unnecessary private sector funds for these projects as that will then justify their collection of exorbitant toll and fare fees on consumers.

    • Joe America says:

      You know, that is an excellent point. The government DOES have money and an improved credit rating, so why not let the PEOPLE profit instead of the fat cats? Superb, superb point. I’m very much disappointed in Secretary Abaya’s work. He seems a reed in the wind to moneyed interests.

      • Micha says:

        It’s the same scheme they are trying to adopt from NLEX and SLEX. There’s an endless stream of revenue source collected day in and day out by a private corporation from hostaged consumers of public infrastructure.

        I have driven from east coast to west coast via the interstate highway system here in the US and I couldn’t remember ever having paid a single toll fee along the 2,000+ miles of comparatively excellent road.

        Rent seekers in the Philippines, in contrast, are feasting on that 50 mile stretch of public road from Balintawak to Dau.

        • Joe America says:

          I might work this idea up into a separate blog if I can find certain financial information. I agree, it is a case of the rich in bed with the government and the consumer paying the way. There is a reason why companies with mainstream businesses elsewhere (Ayala, San Miguel) are avidly (greedily) seeking to bid on infrastructure projects.

        • Micha says:

          There is absolutely no reason why the Philippine gov’t cannot go ahead and fund those projects 100%. Yes it will need the technical and engineering expertise of private firms – that is the reason why it is bidded out to construction companies – but never will it need private entities for funding because the Philippine national gov’t is monetarily sovereign.

          The so-called PPP scheme is just an underhanded method of bringing into fruition the libertarian dream of privatizing everything that moves. They’ve already privatized the water distribution system in Metro Manila (MWSS). Public roads and highways are the wet dreams of privatization guys because of its potentially huge profits from a captured consumer market.

          Here in the US, disciples of Friedman and von Hayek are eyeing to privatize even the prisons system. Global plutocrats use the same method of economic oppression.

    • Joseph-Ivo says:

      May be they trust the private sector more than their own civil servants? E.G.: Corruption in the private sector can never be at a 100% level as in the PDAF case.

      Secretary Abaya’s inheritance of civil servants shouldn’t be underestimated, it remains difficult to replace them all at once. To change a culture takes minimum 6 month per layer in the organization…

      Doubling the infrastructure with the same staff isn’t evident neither.

      • Micha says:

        In this case, it’s the private corporation that is corrupting the public purpose. When a project is being undertaken by the national gov’t, funding can never be a constraint because it is monetarily sovereign.

        The collection of toll fees by private entities on public infrastructures on the pretext that they helped fund its construction is corrupting the public purpose.

        • josephivo says:

          Toll = Tax. You can spent a peso only once. Depending on priorities you spend in on infrastructure, education, health…

          To tax Skyway and Expressway users for their exclusive right to use it is a reasonable thing to do. The alternative is to fill them with jeepneys, motorcycles and tricycles so they get stuck too. Premium transport at a premium price is reasonable for me (premium transport without an alternative is not.) A private company to collect these taxes are maybe more trusted than the local authorities.

          Monetarily sovereign? Ever heard of global financial markets and rating agencies?

          • Micha says:

            What could constrain the national gov’t to fully fund the construction of those expressways and bar slow moving vehicles on it without collecting toll fees?

            Why defer the funding to private entities when the gov’t could fully afford it?

            Yes, I’ve heard about financial markets and rating agencies. What of it?

            • josephivo says:

              Fully funding has also a price, the income and lending capacity of the government is not unlimited. Sharing the “risk” with the private sector can be a viable alternative. The Department of Public Works has a very poor track record (PDAF corruption is small in comparison). Some in the government believe that the total cost of some infrastructure works will be less in cooperation with the private sector. They expect that Zobel, Tan, you name them, will pocket less than the politicians controlling the civil servants. Transparency will be key, long live the FOI bill.

              As I said a premium product as the express ways are at a premium price is fair for me. You can pay the premium price via a tax for everybody or via specific toll, the later seems more fair to me.

              The cost of money is set by international agencies, not nationally, this means that the Philippines is not independent monetarily. E.g.: Devaluating or creating money excessively will be punished by international markets to a degree that the effect disappears. If you do not follow the World Bank or IMF advises you are in deep trouble, same if you ignore the guidance of S&P, Moody’s or Fitch. Of course, going back to the Stone Age is always an option.

              • Micha says:

                Fully funding has also a price, the income and lending capacity of the government is not unlimited. Sharing the “risk” with the private sector can be a viable alternative.

                The conventional wisdom when it comes to national gov’t projects is that those are our tax money being put to work.

                And it gets better than that.

                The Philippines, like most other nations, is no longer on the gold standard. Its fiat currency can be created ex nihilo, backed up by nothing more than its full faith and credit. That is what is meant by monetary sovereignty. Thus its finances is not like those of ordinary citizens like you and me. Balancing the budget is the least of its concerns. The national gov’t, contrary to your assertion, has in fact the unlimited ability to spend and it doesn’t even need an income to do so. The sole constraint to this ability is inflation and monetary policy makers has some tools at their disposal to control it.

                Investing in public infrastructure does not involve risk because, one, it is the public purpose of governments and two, there is no expectation of profitability other than the implied following of its mandate which is to ensure the welfare and well-being of its citizens.

                The Department of Public Works has a very poor track record (PDAF corruption is small in comparison). Some in the government believe that the total cost of some infrastructure works will be less in cooperation with the private sector.

                The solution, as always, is to impose strict liability for corrupt practices. For the gov’t to defer and outsource its mandate to the private sector is to cede the very foundation of its existence.

                The cost of money is set by international agencies, not nationally, this means that the Philippines is not independent monetarily. E.g.: Devaluating or creating money excessively will be punished by international markets to a degree that the effect disappears. If you do not follow the World Bank or IMF advises you are in deep trouble, same if you ignore the guidance of S&P, Moody’s or Fitch. Of course, going back to the Stone Age is always an option.

                The mechanism for a floating exchange rate gives credence to the free market viability of international finance but it doesn’t mean international bankers can, on their own, set the value of independent currencies.

                Monetary and fiscal policy makers of individual sovereign countries do.

              • josephivo says:

                Debt burdens of “developed” nations are limited, exchange rates can float but limited, large fluctuations will destroy trust of foreign investors and uncertainty for local investors. The Zimbabwe economy should not be our example. Ex-absurdo, why is the government not creating so much money so they can buy every Filipino a house and lot with a car parked in front? There are limits.

                No “risks” means no unforeseen construction problems, no more natural disasters, no exploitation uncertainty, no fluctuations on the financial markets, fixed raw material prices for the coming years, strikes not allowed, no new regulations affecting construction or exploitation …. It would be boring to live in such a world.

                “Monetary and fiscal policy makers of individual sovereign countries set the value of independent currencies”, indeed but within the limits set by the World Bank or IMF and anticipating the reactions of rating agencies. (ASEAN aiming at a common market will soon interfere too, see the history of the EU.) Physically the Philippines are islands, economically they are not.

                In the triangle government, economy, citizens the demarcation lines are fluid. In a communist state the government controls the economy completely, in a 100% capitalistic state the government stays out of every economic activity, including financial institutions and the infrastructure. We could debate what the best balance is between this 2 extremes for the Philippines at this moment. But that should be the subject of a different blog.

              • Micha says:

                Please do not confuse financial economy with real economy – the production and trading of real goods and services – because those are two entirely different things.

                There were multiple causes in the Zimbabwe crisis and the IMF-World Bank is complicit in at least one of them when they prescribed ill-timed structural adjustments on its economy during the corrupt and violence riddled regime of Mugabe. There is zero comparable factors present in the Philippines that may have led to the same situation. It is essentially a bogeyman commonly but erroneously cited by inflationistas or inflation hawks.

  2. josephivo says:

    I just got a new passport, and the resident visa of my old passport has to be copied from the old to the new. Both, the old and the new are biometric passports, the have my 10 fingerprints, picture, and iris pictures apart from the normal data.

    Drama. I could be an imposter. Why? Both passports were issued by the same Shengen country, the immigration officer let me in at the border. My pictures corresponded, my fingerprints corresponded, my iris pictures corresponded, my family name was the same, my first name was the same, my second given name the same, birthday, nationality, issuing place, all the same… but my third given name was abbreviated in the new passport, my forth given name omitted (new European standardized software with only 20 positions for “Given Names” ?). So I must be a different person, a fake. Solution? I had to write an affidavit (yes Mariano) to declare that I was the same person on both passports and I have it properly notarized by a shabby attorney. Once this was done they accepted my application for the transfer. I’m waiting for the outcome.

    Kafka where are you, what does considerate accountability mean?

    • Joe America says:

      Ahhh, I love such tales of absurdity, when the government brain freezes to the possibility that the process is not working, and said process continues to be employed. Kafka’s “The Castle” is one of my favorite all time books. It helps to know that it is not just me who is the victim of mindlessly absurd processing nightmares. Nor is the Philippines necessarily the brain freeze capital of the planet, but I’d guess it is running competitively.

      • josephivo says:

        I forgot to tell that the Philippine Retirement Authority was kind enough to replace my PRA id reflecting the new abbreviated third given name (300PHP). Now I just have to change my driver license, my credit and ATM cards, passbooks, my property titles, the warranties of all equipment I have, contracts with Meralco, PLDT, Star Cable, water company, just to name a few. I hope to get a discount from the notary it I buy affidavits by the dozen, all stating that I am myself . After that we’ll take a deep breath and smile again.

  3. sonny says:

    “A Consumer Ombudsman would take the initiative to draft the required law.

    Enough of the relentless abuse of Philippine consumers.
    Enough of the power-mongering by government offices and businesses.

    A little more consideration, please.

    A little more accountability for taking care of Filipinos.

    Please.”

    Joe, you seem almost to read my mind. This subject of delivery of public and private service is seldom tired. My jaded view observes that delivery of public or private service operates under the a perception that the provider of the service delivers a favor to the user or consumer. The complementary truth that the user/consumer need is responsible for the existence of the provider is many times neglected or not recognized. Unless this complementarity is recognized, one will lord it over the other with dire consequences.

    • Joe America says:

      Yes, indeed. We consumers are supposed to be appreciative that the stores let us in to shop. That is the attitude across the Philippines, but I think it is changing, thanks to businesses like Jollibee, which DOES strive for a good customer experience. Judging by the lines, they are cleaning everyone else’s clock. The other day, I thought the drive-through hostess was going to climb out of the window to give me a kiss, she was so pleased to welcome me to Jollibee.

      The whole business of consumer advocacy seems to be missing here. Drugs that do nothing are peddled relentlessly on TV, businesses put up signs on PUBLIC streets telling people not to park in front of their store – on the street that taxes paid for. Ahhh, I best not get starting or this will seem to be a complaint blog. It is not. It is striving for solution, for taking care of people.

      It struck me this morning that the “left” is endlessly and with total futility working to attack and undermine the government with the idea that they are a “people’s party”. Un, well, how about doing something constructive for said “people”. Set up an advocacy group that litigates away consumer harms and burdens. Like be a part of the solution rather than just another authoritarian political group keeping the Philippines divided.

    • josephivo says:

      Car companies know better what I as a customer like in a car than I know myself. I only know some of the “performance” characteristics, the more the better things. They know the essentials better, what upsets me when not present. And they are experts in the WOW factors, things that blow me of my socks and make me buy and come back. How do they know? The observe us, they have clinics, their own employees are car users too. Why? In a free market the better cars sell better, at a higher price.

      The monopolies and governments do not operate in a “free market” and they do not have the need to excel. Only legislation can force them to look at customers. But current legislators in the Philippines are more concerned with themselves than with their customers. The few exceptions confirm the rule.

  4. Gerardo Vergara says:

    What can we expect when we have lawmakers who are only good at passing ;laws declaring a national vegetable or a national fruit. This is one law nobody among them thought of because they are so busy protecting businesses not only of other people but also of their own.

  5. Micha says:

    “Why is the government not creating so much money so they can buy every Filipino a house and lot with a car parked in front?” – josephivo

    Technically, the national gov’t can do exactly that.

    It’s just that they have other “priorities” and “discretions” for those funds :

    http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/616397/aquino-approved-p177b-for-dap-memos-show

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