Building Permits Soon To Be Made Faster

Long  queues, lengthy process time and uncertainty of requirements often discourages developers from applying for building permits. However, the cry for help has been heard as the Ministry of Industry,
28 Nov 2017 12:14
Building Permits Soon To Be Made Faster
From left: Permanent Secretary Shaheen Ali and Singapore Consultant Tan Kim Leng

Long  queues, lengthy process time and uncertainty of requirements often discourages developers from applying for building permits.

However, the cry for help has been heard as the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism has partnered with the Singapore Cooperation Enterprise in eliminating the unnecessary processes in applying, processing and approving building permits.

The Ease of Doing Business Workshop began yesterday with the presence of consultants from the Singapore Cooperation Enterprise, representatives from Government departments, Investment Fiji and the Reserve Bank of Fiji.

Early this year, the Government had introduced the Regulation of Building Permits Act 2017 that will come into effect on January 1, 2018.

Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism permanent secretary Shaheen Ali said: “Obtaining or dealing with building permits was seen as a ‘low hanging fruit’, where the single-window or one-stop-shop concept can be used to ease the current backlog.

“This led to the introduction of the Regulation of Building Permits Act 2017.”

He explained that the purpose of the Act is to provide a streamlined and fast track building permit approvals process by aiming to have one application form, one checklist and one point of submission of applications, ideally through a digital platform.

“The private sector is facing certain hurdles and challenges in engaging with the approval agencies individually.

“The time taken by all agencies is unnecessarily lengthy, which eventually increases the time and cost to acquire necessary approvals,” he said.

According to World Bank Ease of Doing Business Report 2017, there are 14 mandated steps and it takes a total of 141 days to receive a completion certificate.

Mr Ali said this simply is too long and needs to change.

In 2016, Singapore improved its rank by 14 in Dealing with Construction Permits indicator. This was due to the streamlining of processes and use of an online single-window system.

“The Fijian Government has provided the enabling environment for domestic and foreign investments to flourish.

“In order to ensure that the private sector continues to invest in Fiji, we, the public agencies, also need to modernise and streamline processes – to deliver timely outputs,” said Mr Ali.

About the workshop

Yesterday, was the first phase of the series of Business Process Review Workshops that the Ministry and Singapore Corporation Enterprise will deliver.

The four day workshop will explore challenges and needs of the public sector in the adoption of digital technology, specifically in obtaining construction permits.

The exercise is to identify and eliminate the unnecessary processes to reduce time taken to receive and process permits, thus improving Fiji’s Ease of Doing Business.

Mr Ali called for the support of all agencies responsible for building permits to assist and support the development of the new system.

In terms of improving our local construction talent, Mr Ali said that the quality of work produced by our local constructors are within the ambits of the Ministry and will be discussed during the workshop.

There are currently national construction standards set by the Ministry and they are working with the International Finance  Corporation and the Australian Standards Body to highlight key areas for improvement.

Challenges in the construction sector

Singapore Cooperation Enterprise senior consultant Tan Kim Leng said: “The challenge which I see is common in many countries is that there are many agencies involved but there is a lack of standards and co-ordination to approve construction or building permits.”

This, he said was because of the way that the laws or regulations are put together.

Therefore various agencies involved with the processing of the permit application typically look at their own area and not the fact that the developer wants to get the application done quickly because of the deadline and so forth.

What adds to the lengthy process?

Poor feedback system

Lack of building permit standards

Lack of co-ordination

How can Fiji improve on .  enforcing the Regulation of Building Permits Act 2017?

According to Mr Tan, in Singapore, there is co-ordination system that has been created between the agencies and developer therefore feedback is given electronically and clarification is given instantly.

Through this system, there is no need to wait for responses after a few days and any changes made in the application can be notified to the various agencies immediately.

He added that the whole process in Fiji, according to the World Bank, takes more 140 days for the permit to be processed whereas in Singapore, it takes less than 50 days for everything to be completed.

Additionally, to ensure that developers comply with the requirements for a building permit, checklists should be given by the agency to avoid any back and forth mishaps.

He also suggested for an open communication policy where a developer who is unsure of an application requirement may schedule a meeting with the agency instantly.

How can Fiji improve on being an efficient trade facilitator?

Mr Tan suggested that instead of having more than 10 or 30 forms for exports, everything can be condensed into one single form that will then be distributed to the various agencies.

Originally, the approval takes two to three days but through an electronic system such as Singapore’s, it takes around 15 minutes.

He encouraged more investment into the country’s information and communications technology sector if it wants to improve its trade facilitation especially when competing in the global arena.

How can change be managed and implemented especially when dealing with those who are resistant towards change?

“People are so conditioned to do the same thing. And sometimes you want to bring change but you get a lot of resistance,” said Mr Tan.

To address this issue, Mr Tan said the Singaporean government has conditioned itself to look at the public as their customer.

Through this, the Government started to think about how it behaves and will serve the public.

Instead of saying that the government is the regulator and will punish the public by making various changes, the question that should be asked by any government is, ‘How can I help you?’.

Another way to address change and ensuring that no one is left behind is by investing in educating both the baby boomers and millennial to be technology savvy.


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