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Environment dep’t works on faster permit processing

Saturday, June 20, 2009 | MANILA, PHILIPPINES [ BusinessWorld Online ]

BY NEIL JEROME C. MORALES, Reporter


The Environment department is working to speed up the issuance of permits by next month, as part of its bid to reduce opportunities for corruption among regulators and entice more investments, the Environment chief said on Friday.

Environment Secretary Jose L. Atienza, Jr., told reporters that the effort should "remove occasions of graft and corruption and encourage more investment in the country."

At the same time, he said the thrust aims to streamline currently tedious procedures, noting that "we will never be able to attract good money from local and foreign investors...if these rules are unreasonably tight and strict."

For instance, he said, permits for mining — a major thrust of the government — should be issued "in a period of seven weeks from [the current] 17 weeks."

Mining executives have complained in various fora that their projects face several hurdles, ranging from difficulties in securing financing amid tightening global credit, to cumbersome permit processing due to red tape, to opposition by local church leaders, to actual armed attacks by communist rebels.

"The working group [of the Environment department] will still finalize this," Nelia C. Halcon, executive vice-president of the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines, said in a phone interview on Friday.

"It is a welcome development for the industry because we have been trying to push for that even before. Faster processing [of permits] is one come-on for investors."

Mining investment in the first quarter reached $11.16 million, less than 2% of the $628.88-million full-year target, data from the Environment department’s Mines and Geosciences Bureau show.

The mining industry netted $68 million of investments in the same period last year, the same data showed.

Asked when the plan might be implemented, Ms. Halcon said "maybe next quarter, as soon as the working group will be able to finalize everything."

The department also targets to issue environmental compliance certificates (ECC) faster.

Mr. Atienza said the department aims to decide on ECC applications within three weeks from filing, from the current three months.

The procedure for issuing certificates of non-coverage (CNC) will also be streamlined.

Mr. Atienza explained by phone that projects that do not have any direct impact on the environment can apply for a CNC so they can be exempted from having to submit a costly environmental impact assessment — a usual prerequisite for the ECC.

"The CNC...[the decision on which] takes about one to three months [to reach], I would want to be able to be released in one day," Mr. Atienza said.

And in order to act swiftly against violators of permit terms, he added that the department is "strengthening our monitoring capabilities."

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