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No more corruption as usual

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No more corruption as usual

The Integrity Initiative, a pioneering anti-corruption campaign spearheaded by the private sector, took a major leap forward with the staging of the 1st Integrity Summit last Wednesday, Sept. 14, at the Manila Marriott Hotel in Pasay City. In the presence of the leaders of the three branches of government—President Benigno Aquino III, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., and Chief Justice Renato Corona—representatives of over 700 companies and business associations that have signed up their support for the campaign launched a Unified Code of Conduct that will help them meet the highest standards of ethical business conduct.

With the launch of the Unified Code of Conduct, the Integrity Initiative has come a long way since December 2010, when the Makati Business Club, European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, Asian Institute of Management through its Hills Program on Governance, Management Association of the Philippines, and American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines began the project to carry over their good governance and anti-corruption advocacies to the private sector.

As I mentioned in my opening remarks at the summit, the Integrity Initiative is our response to the Aquino administration’s drive for good governance, for while we must continue to hold the government accountable for corruption in public office, we also have to do our share. That is what this initiative is all about: cleaning up the ranks of the private sector, accepting the responsibility for this challenge, pursuing it in a systematic and measurable manner that harnesses the best practices of good corporate governance and accountability at all levels, and inspiring the commitment and cooperation of our colleagues in the private sector and partners in government.

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With funding support from Siemens, we began this unprecedented project by getting the commitment of CEOs and senior executives to support our campaign by signing an Integrity Pledge. To pave the way for the desired culture change and inculcation of ethical behavior in all levels of business organizations, we need to set the tone from the top. As signatories to the pledge, the CEOs promise to ban any form of bribery, establish a code of conduct for employees, set up internal integrity systems and controls, and enter into integrity pacts with the companies and government agencies they deal with, among other commitments.

The next level of engagement for signatories is the adoption of the Unified Code of Conduct, the product of five months of consultations with experts and practitioners not just in Manila but also in Cebu and Davao. It has specific provisions for top management, human resources, sales and marketing, finance and accounting, procurement, and logistics. As more companies commit to abide by this Code, we will see the emergence of a solid private sector constituency working to uphold the highest standards of integrity, transparency, and accountability in business.

The consortium pushing the Integrity Initiative forward, which has grown from the five original organizations to 21 institutions and associations, is also working to make signatories’ faithful compliance with ethical business practices a competitive advantage for these companies. We are pushing for the introduction of so-called “green lanes” at the Bureau of Customs and “blue lanes” at the Bureau of Internal Revenue for signatories that will meet the requirements for such special lanes.

Thus, moving forward, we cannot overstate the importance of working with the government for the success of this endeavor. Working in partnership with the government will help us institutionalize and sustain the reforms that we hope to introduce. Clearly, this administration, which has made clean and honest governance its cornerstone program, provides us a unique window of opportunity that encourages us to launch this ambitious effort at this time. At the summit, we were heartened by President Aquino’s statement that he would highlight our campaign in his coming trip to the United States, where he will attend the launch of the Open Governance Partnership upon the invitation of President Barack Obama.

Taking the cue from the President’s unwavering anti-corruption stance, 13 Cabinet secretaries and the heads of several other key agencies (Bureau of Customs, Bureau of Internal Revenue and Commission on Elections) have already signed the Integrity Pledge. In line with his plans to implement comprehensive reforms in the judiciary, Chief Justice Corona has also signed the pledge. We are also reaching out to our congressional leaders.

As I said in the summit, our message today is that the private sector no longer considers corruption “business as usual.” We are declaring here and now that we can and fully intend to be both successful and honest in business! Let our mantra be “clean business is good business.”

We know there will be naysayers who will insist that corruption is so deeply ingrained in Philippine society that this whole undertaking will amount to nothing more than a pipe dream. My response to them is, yes, the Integrity Initiative is an ambitious, unprecedented and difficult effort, but it is an effort worth making. We intend to make a significant difference in terms of cutting the scale and depth of corruption in our country. And we will succeed if we all link arms and each do our part, with a firm conviction that failure is not an option.

Ramon R. del Rosario Jr. is the chairman of the Makati Business Club and of the Integrity Initiative Steering Committee. Please send your comments to rrdelrosario@hotmail.com.

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TAGS: business ethics, corruption, featured columns, Integrity Initiative, opinion, unified code of conduct
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