Bad Timing

Senate Bill 2402 – Health and Education Acceleration Program (HEAP) Act
by: Jerry Liao

By now I am sure most of you have heard of Senator Richard Gordon’s (Senate Bill 2402) proposal to compel telecommunication companies to set aside 20 percent of their SMS profit for healthcare and education. The idea was to set up a trust fund to be managed by telecom players, the Secretary of Health and Secretary of Education.

First let me commend the good senator for thinking of ways to improve the education and health care services. I must say it’s long overdue. But better late than never right?

Some of you may say this is a good proposal since it will help improve our education and health services. I respect your views so I am going to ask that you respect mine because with all due respect to the good senator – I don’t approve of the bill.

Not that I don’t approve of the proposal to improve our education and health services, but I don’t approve of how its going to be done. Here are the reasons:

1. No matter how you look at it, the additional charges or whatever amount that is to be deducted to the telecom providers will be passed on to the consumers. Even if the bill prohibits it, all the telecom players will do is to remove all promotions like the ‘unlimited texting’. The consumers will end up paying the 20 percent and there’s a big possibility that the revenue of the telecom players will increase even after the deduction.

Because once the telecom providers remove the promos, then they get to charge one peso per text again. As it is right now, the one peso per text does not hold true anymore with ‘unlimited texting’.

2. Telecom providers are paying their taxes. Whether its the right amount or not is another story altogether, but they are paying their taxes. Tax is a percentage of the final sales price that is required to be paid to the government for financing public expenses; and SMS fees are already taxed.

In other words, telecom providers are already doing their contributions, so why are we getting / collecting additional fees again?

If tax collected are not enough to fund education and health projects, then the problem lies in tax collection, budget planning and/or fund allocations. So why ask the private sector to solve a problem caused by the government.

Another concern of mine is this, if a company makes money, the government will get a share of the pie. What if the company goes bankrupt? Will government share the burden? I took up management / marketing and I’ve never encountered any such arrangement.

During the senate hearing, Senator Gordon suggested that since the telecom players are heavily advertising their products, lessening the ads and redirecting the ad funds to HEAP won’t hurt the telecom players. If this is the case, then nobody will even bother advertise anymore. Because if we follow the logic, if you advertise, then your company is making money. And since you’re making money, then government can ‘compel’ you to set aside a certain percentage of your revenue for any government projects they feel needs funding.

My humble proposal: Let us do everything we can to provide quality education to our youth. Provide classrooms, pay our teachers more than what they deserve, review our curriculum, provide quality books and more. Let us also do everything to improve our health services. Develop our hospitals. Pay our doctors and nurses more than what they deserve. Provide affordable medicines. But how do we do it?

Let government state its overall plan for education and health, and I mean grand plan. I don’t want this to be a piece meal project. Since we want to address a problem we all consider very critical to every Filipinos especially to the poor, then let’s do it right.

Show us your grand plan and the funds needed to make this a reality. Ask (not compel) private sector (not only telecom players) to help government achieve this plan. I am certain that the private sector will do its share (like they’ve always been) for as long as they can see that the project will really benefit the poor and will not only benefit a few.

Let the trust fund be managed by the private sector – no government personality, not even secretaries of whatever departments. Only trusted people from the private sector. Better yet, representatives of companies who contributed to the cause. Government will just coordinate with them in as far as the implementation is concern.

Having the money is not the solution to a problem (education/health) long been neglected by our government. The biggest problem here is not whether we have the money or not – but do we have the will to do it? Money is the easiest part of the equation. The biggest problem here is “Implementation”.

The proposal is a major turn off to foreign investors that I’ve talked to. While the whole world are thinking on how to salvage their economy – the Philippine government is adding burden to the business sector that is about to face the greatest challenge of its existence brought about by the global economic crisis.

Only in the Philippines really. Only in the Philippines.

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