• How we can help Duterte beat corruption

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    Ricardo Saludo

    Ricardo Saludo

    Last of two parts
    The first part on Tuesday urged families, barangays, religious and civic groups to join hands with the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte in fighting drugs. This second part talks about helping him stop corruption. Both initiatives are indispensable for narco-syndicates and corrupt officials not to come back after Duterte leaves office.

    Before we leave the drugs issue, one more crucial point on narco-trafficking: It’s clear from the ups and downs of drugs in the country that cracking down on smuggling through the ports is the key to stopping narcotics.

    While bundles of contraband can be slipped in by small boats all over the country, the bulk of illicit shipments, including shabu shipments, ingredients, and labs, has to come in by containers. Hence, the 2,000 boxes that vanished uninspected in 2011 was almost surely the main conduit for the narco-explosion in the country in recent years.

    So squeeze smuggling, Mr. President, and narcotics will also shrivel.

    Turning to corruption, Duterte announced that eradicating corruption is his avowed goal this year, just as narcotics was his wipeout target last year.

    His handling of the P50-million bribery scandal at the Bureau of Immigration stirs both cheers and fears. Chinese gambling tycoon Jack Lam allegedly gave the money to BI officials, including two former Duterte fraternity brothers, to let off the hook more than 1,300 Chinese nationals illegally working for Lam’s Fontana online gambling operation in Pampanga.

    Many applaud Duterte’s swift firing of his two college buddies, even after they turned over P30 million of the payoff. Also out of the agency was the dismissed officials’ boss, who surrendered the remaining P20 million to the Philippine National Police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group.

    However, some doubt has emerged. This week, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre said that on President Duterte’s instruction, casino king Lam may return to the Philippines and continue his gambling operation if he would settle all tax liabilities past and future, and pledge never to bribe any official again.

    Sorry, but shouldn’t Lam be probed and prosecuted for bribery? In fact, on December 3, Duterte himself ordered the Chinese businessman arrested, but the latter had fled the country. Days later, however, the President rescinded his arrest order if Lam would return to settle his tax obligations. Then on Dec. 17, Duterte said he would order that Lam’s properties be sequestered.

    Secretary Aguirre, who alleged Lam offered him P100 million a month for protection, said it would be hard to prove the attempted bribery, since it was made through interpreters. Still, the government should try, at least by charging the translators and getting them to turn state witnesses.

    Keeping the Cabinet clean
    President Duterte must resolve the Jack Lam affair legally and transparently, to maintain public support for his government. And he needs the nation solidly behind him to win against drugs, crime and corruption — and against parties plotting regime change.

    On fighting graft, this column outlined a three-point program for the Duterte administration back in June: Institute freedom of information by executive order — done in late November; impose a Code of Conduct for Cabinet members and other agency heads; and mobilize key sectors and the citizenry against graft.

    On top of following laws against corruption, the Code of Conduct would address conflicts of interest and lack of transparency by requiring all agency heads to:

    1) Disclose any conflict of interest that may affect policies, projects, programs, and contracts subject to their decision, oversight, or privileged information.

    2) Recuse themselves from any decision in which conflict of interest or personal/professional ties may significantly influence the decision.

    3) Promptly provide public access to information on agency matters, subject to restrictions imposed by law, jurisprudence, and explicit agency procedures.

    4) Impose leaves of absence on agency officials, including the head, to allow unimpeded investigation of alleged anomalies involving those officials.

    5) Immediately report to the President any conflict of interest, personal or professional ties, or alleged impropriety or irregularity involving key officials in the agency.

    If President Duterte publicly required his appointees to follow such rules, he would affirm his commitment to fight corruption, and win over key sectors not only to join his war on graft, but also defend his government against its opponents.

    Harnessing Filipinos against sleaze
    That both the war on drugs and the battle against sleaze need nationwide public support is clear from the numbers. Rehabilitating the 3-million-plus addicts is clearly impossible if the government had to do it all by itself.

    It’s the same story with corruption. With just several hundred investigators and prosecutors, there is no way the Office of the Ombudsman can keep tabs on most of the 1.3 million people in the public sector.

    Nor can the OMB and even the Commission on Audit monitor most of the P3.35 trillion in national public spending, plus hundreds of billions more in local governments, state firms, and other entities not covered by the national budget. Or the trillions in taxes, duties and fees collectible by national and local governments.

    Result: The chances of punishing sleaze are minuscule, deterring few grafters.

    Plainly, the nation needs to mobilize many, many more warm bodies against graft. To get a one-to-100 ratio of graftbusters to government officials and personnel, for instance, we need 13,000 Filipinos on anti-corruption duty.

    Such a ratio would match that of Hong Kong’s feared Independent Commission Against Corruption, which has done a stellar job of keeping the territory largely graft-free.

    Should Congress give the OMB money to recruit thousands of probers and prosecutors? Well, it won’t. Lawmakers will never enable the anti-graft agency to catch most crooked politicians, who unfortunately include many legislators.

    Moreover, depending solely on the Ombudsman to keep public servants straight could falter if the OMB itself becomes partisan, targeting administration opponents but sparing its stalwarts.

    Hence, the anti-graft drive needs a nationwide citizens movement to investigate, and expose misgovernance and corruption, and give support to honest public servants under pressure.

    We’ll talk about the mechanics of this movement next week.

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    4 Comments

    1. We must help PRRD. He has been showing political will that we have not seen before. Let us start by limiting contact with the government bureaucrats. Most permits, licenses, registrations, reports, etc. can be handled by computers. Even signatures can be done by computers. A great number of transactions can be computerized, not necessarily done online. Imagine the savings in time and money if transactions will be computerized and/or done online!

    2. You can start with the most glaringly obvious, and that is the prosecution of all the pork barrel scammers !

    3. What you are talking about here is the complete makeover of the government. Graft and corruption is a symptom of the problem. The problem is how the government is structured and how it works. The central government is directly involved with local traffic congestion and local public transportation. This is not a National problem and should be handled by the local authorities. Our problem is that the government has been organized to give control to the select Manila elites. Just look at our courts, the OMB, and the jails. Each one of these should not be controlled by a central power like the SC. The courts should be local, regional and national. Local courts should handle all local laws and the judges elected locally. The Local court budgets should be included in the local budget. Doing this would make the courts responsive to the people and the cases would conclude much faster. The OMB, the jails, the roads, the police, and many more sections of the government have to be reorganized to place local operations into local hands and out of the central government.

    4. Yes there actually is a more effective way to determine corruption in gov’t. How? If everyone in gov’t service would start to declare a yearly Statement of Personal Official Gov’t Expenditures (SPOGE) aside from the yearly Statement of Assets and Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN).

      Circumventing the SALN has become easy, with graters hiding unexplained wealth under the names of their spouses, children and relatives. At the opposite extreme honest gov’t employees’ legitimately earned wealth or inheritances listed in their SALN are subject to scrutiny based on mere tips of enemies or envious complainants. It is also suspect that SALN data is being data mined and sold to private companies.

      So unlike the SALN a SPOGE can account in black and white all the yearly expenditures of a corrupt gov’t official/employee by simply following the money. They who have the monopoly of commissions, honorarium, bonuses, cash disbursements, reimbursements, un-liquidated expenditures, travel allowances, official use off vehicles & other official equipment and supplies requisitioned, such perks etc… should be listed individually then tabulated at the year’s end and screened by the resident COA to red flag the individual big gov’t spenders with poor or suspect justifications, these are the one who are likely to be the top corrupt.

      That’s how you keep the stealing in gov’t in check, by tracing individual spending in the gov’t by a SPOGE, unlike a SALN which looks outside of gov’t spending into ones personal finances, scrutiny that can be either circumvented or abused.

      By making a SPOGE compulsory you don’t really need to hire an additional 13,000 graft busters to do the job.