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Getting business to behave

opinion / Columnists
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Business Matters

Getting business to behave

It has not been easy for Integrity Initiative Inc. (II) to convince the broader business community to get on board the integrity train. There continues to be some cynicism toward the prospect of clean business resulting in good business on the part of those accustomed to shortcuts or just resigned to the idea that “that’s how it is in the system.” Along this vein, there are others questioning the ability of “corrupt to the core”  businessmen to change their ways just because they have signed the Integrity Pledge. “Such businessmen are merely trying to sanitize themselves” is how others scoff at what II is trying to do.

II first started as a project initiated by the Makati Business Club and European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines in 2010. Funded by a Siemens grant, the project is aimed at developing a private-sector-led and -implemented integrity compliance and certification system. The two organizations were subsequently joined by the American Chamber, Financial Executives Association, and Management Association of the Philippines. By the end of the project in 2015, over 100 business groups had signed the Integrity Pledge, which prompted us to form the Integrity Consortium (Icon). We hoped then and continue to hope now that this consortium can get more companies on board as the Icon business groups encourage their members to sign the pledge and commit to moving up the II system toward full certification. The ultimate hope is that business groups will follow the example of the Canadian Chamber that made signing the Integrity Pledge a requirement for all its members, old and new.

Aside from private-sector cynicism, our other deep and still growing frustration has been getting government support. True, over 40 agencies signed a public-sector Integrity Pledge during the previous administration, for which we are grateful. But what is needed is a framework upon which all public agencies can make signing of the Integrity Pledge a requirement for companies before they can do business with the government. This can be very quickly done through the issuance of an executive order.

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The government has two reasons for not doing so. First, officials are concerned that issuing the executive order may violate the procurement law which does not provide for such a requirement. Second, they are wary of specifying the Integrity Pledge and Integrity Initiative over other systems. The second one is easy to dispel. There just isn’t any other pledge and system around today. Besides, II already has the support of over 100 groups across the country! At any rate, the government can simply require the signing of an integrity pledge and adopting an integrity system, and subsequently accredit II and other institutions as authorized implementing partners.

We often hear our elders saying, “Maraming dahilan kapag ayaw.” One cites many reasons if one doesn’t want to comply. Fortunately, the incumbent administration has expressed openness to issue the desired executive order.  A draft has been sent to and received by the Office of the Executive Secretary and is being studied carefully. Hopefully, there would be more reason to support rather than stymie our integrity initiatives.

And surely it makes perfect sense. The private sector is doing its part in fighting corruption, not only through the signing of an Integrity Pledge but also, and more importantly, through an integrity compliance, certification and monitoring system. This system will push more and more companies to adopt control measures to stop bribery, promote payment of proper taxes and other fees, adopt and enforce fraud prevention policies, encourage better treatment of employees, take better care of the communities they operate in, and be more Earth-friendly.

Without a doubt, one real factor for many companies’ hesitance to join II is the realization that this is not just about signing a pledge. That is easy and has been done many times before.  What will truly be a difficult journey is living up to the commitments of the Integrity Pledge and ensuring that everyone in the organization will behave accordingly.

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Peter Perfecto is executive director of the Makati Business Club and vice president of Integrity Initiative Inc.

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TAGS: business integrity, Business Matters, business sector, Inquirer editorial, Peter Angelo V. Perfecto
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