Put big guys in jail (2)
Last week I mentioned laws we need to truly fight corruption. But laws won’t do it; they just give a stronger judicial right to prosecute and find the wrongdoers guilty. The executive has to ACT. The Department of Justice, the Sandiganbayan, the Office of the Ombudsman, the National Bureau of Investigation have to investigate vigorously and conclusively, immune from political pressure. The prosecutors have to develop watertight cases.
The Commission on Audit has done a sterling job under chair Mike Aguinaldo in uncovering questionable acts. Enlarging its budget and personnel would make good sense if President Duterte wants to catch the cheats. The courts have to, finally one hopes, act swiftly in months, not years. And do so blindfolded.
Transparency International (TI), in its worldwide survey of corruption, found that the Philippines’ score dropped to 34 in 2019 vs 36 in 2018 (where 0 is highly corrupt and 100 is very clean). Worse, though, is that compared to other countries, it has fallen considerably—down 14 notches from 99th in 2018 to 113th of 180 countries in 2019. In previous years, the Philippines fared better—ranking 105th in 2012, 94th in 2013, and 85th in 2014.
TI uses the same methodology each year, so the trend can’t be challenged. Maybe the methodology could be. But whether it’s faulty or not, I think it does say one thing: There is still way too much corruption in the Philippines.
Government officials involved in corruption cases must be brought to account and must not be allowed to escape on legal technicalities. Public anger must be sustained, which it certainly isn’t now, until genuine reform is achieved. For instance, whatever happened to those involved in the P10-billion pork barrel scam — are any of the politicians allegedly involved in jail? No, the few accused were allowed to post bail and released. Their staff, however, remained in jail. Does anyone remember, or care? Or the P15-billion PhilHealth scandal which is in the news now, but for how long? And will the top guys be actually found guilty and put in jail? Importantly, will they be forced to return the money and/or turn over their assets to the state?
On the business side, the Philippine government, including succeeding administrations, must seriously address corruption if they want to attract the high level of job-generating investments we must have if poverty is to be seriously reduced. When I’m negotiating a contract with a multinational corporation, the investigation they put me through, and the ethical standards I must swear to maintain, are intense.
They won’t stomach even a whiff of corruption, and if asked to pay a bribe will leave the country.
The United States has the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act that is so draconian that even taking a government official to lunch has to be justified. We could do with a similarly draconian law here (but let’s allow the lunches unchallenged). Honest businessmen won’t transact with agencies riddled with corruption and with a government that is unable to prosecute corrupt officials.
There’s a role the media, including social media, can play here—by instilling into the public mind the need for honest dealings so everyone can live better. (If P15 billion hadn’t been stolen from PhilHealth, thousands of Filipinos would have led a healthier life.)
The educators of our children can include in their teaching the need to lead an honest life as a prerequisite to genuine success. The church should play a far more active role than it does today. It is, after all, God’s eighth commandment: “Though shalt not steal.” Don’t these crooks want to go to heaven?
Digitization of government services will help. It’s harder to get away with theft when all procedures and processes are online, provided the services are sufficiently well-designed to minimize the ability to cheat. As I’ve said innumerable times, you can’t bribe a computer but you can hack it, which is why the design of the IT systems being introduced into government must be thorough, hack-proof, and open to scrutiny. That needs the Freedom of Information Act to be passed by Congress.
The huge reduction in corruption the Duterte administration wants to achieve hasn’t yet happened. Will it now? Let’s make 2020 the year the Philippines comes clean. In the end, it all comes down to how serious the President is, really. Proof will be some cronies in jail before his term ends. Nothing less will succeed.
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