Waging war on corruption (1)

Published by rudy Date posted on April 4, 2011

NOTE: As mentioned at the end of the two-part column published last Friday and Saturday, a three-part article on anti-corruption measures which ran in August, will be reprinted this week with some revisions and updates, to reiterate key steps that can be taken to reduce graft.

These initiatives are by no means exhaustive or even essential. But they have been proven to work. These columns first ran on August 2, 4 and 6, 2010.

First of three parts

With Executive Order No. 1 creating Truth Commission signed, the Aquino Administration can now turn to the more crucial part of his anti-corruption agenda: fighting graft under his watch. Those with illusions that running after the previous regime would stop sleaze under the current one should recall what anti-graft prosecutors have to show for their pursuit of alleged past presidential excesses.

A day after the first EDSA People Power Revolution, President Corazon Aquino created by decree the Presidential Commission on Good Government to run after the family and associates of ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Yet corruption reportedly continued under new guises under the saintly Cory, headlined by the infamous Kamag-anak Inc. of presidential relatives. Today, her son has forgiven the Marcoses, who were accused not just of mind-boggling corruption, but also of the Aquino Assassination.

Going by media reports and opposition claims, graft also flourished under the leader installed by EDSA 2, despite six years of house arrest and the guilty verdict and life term against her deposed predecessor, Joseph Estrada. Today, we hear a third version of “Jail to the [Past] Chief.” Another President Aquino is running after a past regime’s alleged misdeeds.

Now in all honesty, will his Truth Commission really deliver his promise of “walang corrupt?” Or will it again show that graft does not pay for those who did not switch to the winning camp?

This is not an argument against EO 1. There is virtue in bringing
closure to disturbing national controversies through impartial, evidence-based due process. Many hope the new commission would have the legal basis, clout and independence to probe and pronounce the truth, even if it goes against PNoy’s own pronouncements. But investigating the past is just one step in the struggle against corruption in our society.

The bigger challenge is probing, prosecuting, punishing and preventing excesses in the coming six years and beyond. In that never-ending war, running after past anomalies fires the first shot. But the heavy artillery are actions since June 30 to name people of probity to top positions, to reform policies and practices of national and local agencies, and to check and chastise misconduct not only of those in government, but also of the governed, especially entities regulated, policed and dealt with by the state.

On appointments President Benigno Aquino 3rd asked Congress for smooth confirmation of his Cabinet members. It might have better served the cause of good governance to say: “I chose a Cabinet of integrity, competence and achievement, and you will complete my work by thoroughly assessing each appointee, to ensure that everyone confirmed will truly serve our nation well.”

Among issues to carefully consider: past work by the transport, public works and energy secretaries in firms that their departments regulate; the NEDA director general’s record as CEO of the Philippine Stock Exchange; and the substantial influence of the budget secretary and his family on public finances.

It was disturbing, however, that early on, President Aquino showed a tendency to dismiss questions and accusations regarding his people, while being quick to condemn and castigate others without solid evidence and due process. Last September, for instance, PNoy did not bother investigating Archbishop Oscar Cruz’s accusation that Interior Undersecretary Rico Puno, the President’s shooting buddy, was receiving jueteng payolas.

Neither did the Palace implement sanctions recommended by a Cabinet-level panel against Puno and other officials over the Rizal Park hostage crisis, nearly prompting Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to resign. Yet this week, the Palace fired Deputy Ombudsman Emilio Gonzalez 3rd mainly on the word of the deceased hostage-taker, dismissed police officer Rolando Mendoza. He had accused Gonzalez of sitting on his case and demanding a P150,000 bribe.

Thus, an Archibishop’s charges were not worth investigating, in Malacañang’s view, but the unsubstantiated claim of a hostage-taking policeman was reason enough to dismiss a deputy ombudsman with many years of government service. This presidential double standard cannot promote good governance and integrity.

Plainly, to instill those virtues, all officials with no exception must be held accountable under two rules of appointment. First: Give all appointees the chance to show integrity, industry and intelligence in their positions. And second: Watch them like a hawk and take them to task when they falter, for diligent vigilance is the price not only of liberty, but also of good governance. And the best eyes to watch the people in government belong to the governed.

There were public-private bodies in the past administration created to monitor agencies at the highest level. At least that was the intention.

President Aquino can revitalize those entities, which included civil society, private sector and media, and replicate them across the government.

The Procurement Transparency Group, under the Government Procurement Policy Board, had observers nationwide watching public bidding (see procurementtransparencygroup.wordpress.com). The Pro-Performance System under the Presidential Management Staff, kept tabs on priority infrastructure.

When this writer was chairman of the Civil Service Commission (csc), the CSC got a grant from the UN Development Program to set up the Bayan Talk agency-stakeholder dialogues, starting at DSWD, CHR and the Quezon City government. The tripartite scheme, with the commission mediating between government bodies and their constituencies, generated regular feedback on policies and operations, including graft concerns. Once alerted, officials must act or be liable for tolerating corruption.

Ultimately, the CSC planned to link Bayan Talk to the performance evaluation system for rating government personnel for incentive pay increments and promotion. Stakeholders would be asked to indicate if integrity was an issue regarding employees being rated. If several constituent groups expressed concern about a bureaucrat, it would pull down his or her performance rating. Moreover, after reading staff evaluations, superiors can no longer claim ignorance of graft under their watch.

EOs can institute these integrity feedback mechanisms in national government agencies, state corporations, and nationally funded educational and medical institutions. With PNoy’s advocacy, civil service rules and laws can also be enacted to extend the system to local governments.

With these mechanisms, constituents could regularly keep watch on instrumentalities of the state. Come 2016, there would be no need for a truth commission to tell the nation how the government governed under President Aquino. Instead, throughout the six years Filipinos would have a ringside view of their public servants plus a way to help keep them on the straight and narrow path.

To be continued on Wednesday, April 6

Ricardo Saludo heads the Center for Strategy, Enterprise and Intelligence (ric.saludo@censeisolutions.com). He holds a M.S. in Public Policy and Management from School of Oriental and African Studies, London. –RICARDO SALUDO, Manila Times

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