The 2013 Ramon Magsaysay Award prizewinners include leaders of diverse endeavors. Afghanistan’s Habiba Sarabi, a doctor, is the first and only female governor in the war-torn country, in charge of the province of Bamyan that she continues to transform today. Lahpai Seng Raw of Burma (Myanmar) is an activist widow and a member of the ethnic minority Kachin people who organized the wide-reaching nongovernmental relief organization Metta Development Foundation in a Burma under military rule. The Nepalese organization known as Shakti Samuha is an NGO that battles human trafficking in a country where thousands of people are sold over the border to India.
The Filipino physician Ernesto Domingo, long a pillar of research, teaching and leadership at the University of the Philippines Manila, is well known for his devotion to public health advocacy, taking part in various groups and studies which look at the impact of universal health care in the Philippines.
The most eye-opening of this year’s Magsaysay awardees, however, may be the recipient from Indonesia. The Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi (Corruption Eradication Commission) or KPK is an unexpected light shining where there has mostly been darkness.
Regularly ranked among “the most corrupt countries in the world,” Indonesia suffers from endemic corruption on all levels of governance, and the government has formed one group after another to curb corruption since the 1950s, to no avail. Then the Indonesians decided to get serious about corruption.
In 2002, Indonesia established the KPK under Law Number 30 of 2002. The KPK has broad powers for investigating and prosecuting cases, recovering stolen assets, as well as preventing corruption by educating the Indonesian people. After all, it would take a powerful weapon to defeat such a powerful enemy.
The KPK has proven sharp, and its efforts run deep. Since its inception, it has prosecuted 169 high-profile cases of corruption among ranking government officials, successfully convicting every single official charged. That’s 100 percent. The KPK has recovered over $80 million in stolen assets. Beyond the seizures and the arrests, the KPK is trying its best to ingrain the idea of transparency and integrity in a society hamstrung by its casual crooks. The KPK has its share of detractors, but also has a popular mandate. Its innovative educational campaigns ring fresh.
Among the more interesting campaigns are the establishment of so-called “integrity zones” in government offices (imagine that) and the “honesty shops,” where customers pay whatever they want. How popular is KPK? When KPK needed a building and the parliament wouldn’t fork over the funds, Indonesians voluntarily gave their own money. The Ramon Magsaysay Foundation’s citation for KPK accurately called it “a symbol of reform and hope for Indonesians, and is hailed as one of the few effective anticorruption agencies in the world.”
How does Indonesia (ranked 118th among 176 countries in the Corruption Perceptions Index 2012) have a more effective anticorruption campaign than the Philippines (ranked 105th)? How did we become less effective at battling graft than a country once defined by it?
For all the good that the Presidential Commission on Good Government, the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force, the Sandiganbayan and other anticorruption institutions in the Philippines have done, it isn’t enough. The Filipinos have now found themselves in the middle of the most expensive swindle in history, a spiral of greed that implicates many officials appointed and elected—and the people rightfully worry that all of them, even the guiltiest of masterminds, will get off scot-free.
The Philippines has been overtaken by our Asian neighbors in terms of foreign direct investments and tourism receipts. The success of the KPK is not only proof that the Indonesians have figured out how to sort out corruption in their sprawling government, but also a sign that, in terms of signal victories against corruption, we Filipinos are being overtaken too.
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