“This needs to be addressed.”
The behavior and culture of Filipino consumers have changed so fast since the shock of the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted our comfort zones. Things were so different three decades ago when we were just starting to use analogue cell phones and internet access was very slow and limited. Computer technologies then were working with dial-up speeds that sometimes dropped as low as 21 kbps. Mega-bits per second (MBPS) speeds and even the concept of “cloud” computing were still decades away.
When the lockdowns started, we learned how to use all those e-commerce apps in our smartphones which have become an indispensable device to access all the telecommunications and online services to continue, communicating, working, schooling, and yes, even playing.
Even before the pandemic, among my smart phone apps, one of the most useful is the ride hailing service Grab. It became a convenient and safe alternative to driving around the wild traffic of the city to get to the next business appointment. We didn’t know how to do online meetings then. It saved me a lot of stress and is actually a viable option to using your car considering the wear and tear, fuel, and parking expenses. Now, it has become a go-to app for ordering food, groceries, shopping, delivering and receiving packages, over the counter medicine, booking hotels, insurance coverage, and more. Quite an amazing evolution that at the end of the day is good for us consumers.
The speed of innovations like this is even accelerating as each new technology builds up on the gains of the last version and makes things even more efficient and faster which then creates new opportunities for newer technologies. However, the reality of compliance to the regulatory and policy environment of governing bodies cannot keep pace and is often a resisting force that tech driven companies must live with because of the slow human pace of change averse bureaucratic thinking.
Here is an interesting case. If you are a Grab user, a rider or one of their partners, you may have heard of the issue of penalties totaling P25.45 million that the Philippine Competition Commission (PCC) ordered Grab to pay because of “extraordinary pricing deviations” committed in 2019 and 2020. As of March 21, 2022, only 21 percent have redeemed and about P19 million still pending refund. The PCC set a deadline of April 22 to refund the remaining amounts by crediting via GrabPay Wallet automatically.
Apparently, the Grab passengers who are qualified for the one-or two-peso rebate have no interest in bothering to check the Rewards section of the Grab app for refund. Well, who would be? The remaining P19 million sounds big but when reduced to the ridiculous one little peso per qualified customer, the energy and time is simply not worth it.
In a TeleRadyo interview, Grab public affairs head Booey Bonifacio clarified that only users who booked Grab Car rides from August to October in 2019 are entitled to this refund and though they are complying by transferring the rebate to the corresponding GrabPay wallets there is a problem for users that did not activate their GrabPay wallets. The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) regulation on e-Wallet platforms to know-your-client (KYC), requires customers to submit information to verify identity before activation of their GrabPay wallet. I for one don’t need the wallet function because my Grab account is linked to a credit card, and I certainly won’t bother activating it for a one-peso refund.
So here is the policy disconnect of the PCC ordering automatic refund without any act from the qualified users to claim on one side and the BSP requirements on the other. Grab has submitted a memorandum to the PCC last month suggesting alternative solutions and is still waiting for the anti-trust body’s approval.
I understand the need for a government institution to follow its mandate and rules, but the unique circumstance of this case needs a Solomonic solution that would consider options that would result in maximum benefit. Though it seems fair to disburse the refund to the rightful recipients, there is really no value in receiving one peso. Some creative thinking is needed like donating the remaining amount to the drivers of Grab as fuel assistance or donating to a worthy charity will have righteous impact.
This reveals the digital unreadiness of government that needs to be addressed. The challenge for all policy makers, agency heads, officers, and employees of government is to unlearn the very linear and rigidly slow bureaucratic culture and transform into a more digital mindset that embraces dynamic thinking with a people-centric outlook that aims to get the country ready to thrive in a global digital economy as soon as possible.