Good for business
EDITORIAL, Philippine Daily Inquirer
September 18, 2011
Often easily cast in the role of bogeyman in tales of corruption, big business is considered by most to be a merciless mercenary willing to do anything just to make a buck – and if it involves big bucks, regardless of the consequences.
In the Philippines, where crookedness could be seen in almost every level of private enterprise and government service, having to pay people to do even the right thing has become ordinary.
But what if things could be different? What if big business, instead of being a villain in this everyday morality play, acted out the role of the hero instead? What if the private sector’s best men decided to clean up their stables and become the exemplars of fair deals and contracts?
That exactly is what Integrity Initiative wants to do. Convened by the Makati Business Club, the European Chamber of Commerce, the American Chamber of Commerce in the Philippines, the Asian Institute of Management through its Hills Program on Governance, and the Management Association of the Philippines, Integrity Initiative is as groundbreaking as it is wide in scope.
The backbone of Integrity Initiative is the Unified Code of Conduct, the heart of which is the Integrity Pledge. The first to take the oath – which prohibits businessmen from engaging in any acts of bribery or other forms of corruption, and which commits them to establishing for their employees a work environment conducive to proper and honest conduct – were presidents, chief executive officers and board chairmen of private firms.
The oath includes a vow to make employees follow the Unified Code of Conduct as well, with each company watching over its own people. It is hoped that Integrity Initiative will trigger an “outbreak of honesty” that will spread from one company to another and eventually envelop the whole of society.
Launched in December 2010, Integrity Initiative marked a milestone last Sept. 14 with its First Integrity Summit. In that event, top executives from the companies that have pledged by the Unified Code of Conduct unabashedly demonstrated their devotion to the initiative. Just by showing up, the “big bosses” – so readily depicted as antagonists in society’s unseen inner workings – publicly assumed the mantle of Philippine commerce’s paragons and paladins. The executives represented some 700 companies and business entities.
But the summit had special guests, too – from the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government, led by no less than President Aquino himself, House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. and Chief Justice Renato Corona, who watched the company representatives sign the Unified Code of Conduct. They didn’t have to say a word, their presence already spoke volumes.
Integrity Initiative may have started with the private sector, but its goals extend to the public sector as well. What Integrity Initiative seeks to achieve is for private companies to abide by what is right and, in the process, bring government agencies to toe the line. During the summit, 14 Cabinet secretaries and agency officials also signed the Integrity Pledge.
“But instilling a culture of integrity in government is only one aspect of the equation. We must also foster the same culture in the private sector, and this is why what you are doing today is very important,” President Aquino told the gathered business leaders.
Not so much for the size of the gathering and the quality of its participants but, to be sure, this was an extraordinary, unprecedented communion between business and government. It is hoped that by the end of the year, some 1,000 companies shall have signed up to the cause. It is also hoped that private entities would now practice the highest degree of honesty in their affairs, just as it has always been the hope that government agencies adhere to the highest standards of transparency in administering their responsibilities and services, most especially those involving millions of pesos.
“We want the government to recognize our efforts. We want them [government people] to use the element of integrity as one of the measures in choosing their suppliers,” Ramon R. del Rosario Jr., chair of the Makati Business Club and Integrity Steering Committee, said. “The goal is not to wipe out corruption but to at least make a significant difference. We want to develop standards of behavior. This initiative isn’t meant to stop at just broad commitments.” Indeed. After all, Integrity Initiative can only go as far as the people – in both private and public sectors – take it.