News and Events

Anti-corruption agencies

Posted: 2011-05-28
Category: In the News

MY FOUR CENTAVOS, Philippine Star
By: Dean Andy Bautista
May 28, 2011


Instead of our usual column, may I share with you excerpts of a talk that I delivered during a Hills Governance Center symposium at the Asian Institute of Management regarding “The Fundamentals of an Effective Anti-Corruption Agency”. My co-panelists were Tony Kwok, former Deputy Commissioner of the Independent Commission on Anti-Corruption in Hong Kong and Emil Bolongaita, Public Management Specialist at the Asian Development Bank, who has done extensive research on corruption in Indonesia. Journalist Marites Vitug served as program moderator.

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“I am the ‘new’ kid on the block insofar as anti-corruption is concerned. After 20+ years in the private sector, I joined the Presidential Commission on Good Government some eight months ago. So what I provide is a fresh pair of eyes to an age old problem.

The PCGG was, in the early days, the media darling. Founded three days after the 1986 People Power Revolution, then President Corazon Aquino, while wielding both legislative and executive powers, created this quasi-judicial body to run after a nd recover the ill-gotten wealth of Ferdinand Marcos, his family and close associates. In the beginning, its efforts were greatly lauded. But soon after, the Commission was let alone to do “its work” to solve “its problems”. Save for the abuses of some of the Commission’s past incarnations, there was little to no news about the PCGG-except for bad news.

More lamentable is the fact that the Commission should have transcended the mere task of recovering ill-gotten wealth. Unknown to many, the PCGG is likewise legally mandated to (1) investigate cases of graft and corruption, as may be assigned by the President and (2) to install effective safeguards to prevent corruption in government.

I reckon that most people would be surprised by this. What is unfortunate is that, for the most part, these mandates have been largely un-actualized and this potential untapped-which brings me to my two interrelated points: the need for institutions and institutionalization, and a more consistent, coherent, and coordinated approach.

In the Philippines, the premiere anticorruption agency is the Office of the Ombudsperson. The office is supposed to be ‘the protector of the people.’ But with such an imposing mandate and in light of recent experience, the question then begs to be asked, “Who guards the guardians?” How do we make sure that the office itself will not be a source of illegality?

First, there is the Klitgaard formula which is familiar to those who do work on anti-corruption efforts. It is simple in its intuitiveness: corruption is equal to monopoly plus discretion minus accountability. From this formula, one could intuit a few other corollaries. First, one can reduce the monopoly by breaking down the decision-making process into particular nodes, so that no one person can monopolize the provision of services. Second, restrict discretion and impose reasonable limits that would give people foreseeable expectations and impart predictability and regularity to the process. Finally, disperse and disseminate the information - both of the process and the final output - in a centrally - accessible information system that is within easy access to the relevant stakeholders.

Second, and more importantly, we need to recast the dilemma of “how do we prevent corruption?” into the positive and active frame of “how do we get our public officials to do their jobs right? In which case, we find that a part of the answer easily reveals itself: incentives. We make great demands of our public servants, but provide scant rewards. Worse, the public does not impose the same standards on itself. In fact, at times, the very same people who deplore and decry corruption are the first to offer the bribes.

I was told a story involving a Filipino and a Japanese. As they were backing out of the parking space, the Filipino, without a second’s thought, gave the security guard some loose change as “tip.” Surprised by what he saw, the Japanese called it “corruption.” I am unaware of any studies done on a more culturally-sensitive understanding of “corruption,” but it does seem like a good place to start. After all, it’s hard to fight corruption if it does not appear to be a problem - if it does not rile up or work up a considerable level of indignation and contempt. Until that time comes, one way to make those gifts unappealing is to make them superfluous: incentivize good behavior. A competitive salary structure that is merit-based and responsive to performance is a very good start. Otherwise, you will be unable to attract good talent or you will soon lose them in the process. Not to denigrate our call center agents, for example, but do you realize that some of them earn more than their lawyer-counterparts who work in government? Considering thelevel of responsibilities and the questions of accountabilities involved, there is an unfortunate and demoralizing disparity that makes the “easier alternatives,” i.e. corruption more appealing.

In this regard, it is quite apparent that there are cross-sectoral issues that require a consistent, coherent, and coordinated approach. Having institutionalized processes are one thing, but, in the final reckoning, if they are to be effective, they will require the support of everyone. Part of institutionalization is harmonizing multiple sources of actions and solutions to a confluence point that directs them in a coordinated manner. In this regard, political will becomes a necessary imperative.

Indeed, the discourse on corruption has to be mainstreamed and made relevant again. It has to go beyond a competition between agencies and administrations for the “best programs,” but for a fight against corruption that is jointly supported by and with the full cooperation of all agencies. This fight is too significant to be left alone to the Office of the Ombudsman, it is a call to action that must be addressed by everyone. In the end, our institutions and our internalized sense of what is right and acceptable is what will sustain us beyond personalities and administrations through to ridding our bureaucracy of corruption.

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“The question should be, is it worth trying to do, not can it be done.”  —  Allard Lowenstein




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