Much has been said about the year that was 2016, but one thing is for sure: it is now well and truly over. Now, we can focus on 2017 and on doing what we can to make this year better than the one before.
For me, 2017 brings in a new challenge to make a difference. I was recently elected chair of the Integrity Initiative, Inc., the private sector-led organization that promotes good governance, transparent business transactions, and strict integrity standards in the Philippines.
Since it was launched in 2010, the Integrity Initiative has accomplished a lot both in highlighting the importance of integrity in the private and public sectors and in getting organizations to go beyond mere lip service when advocating good governance. But in a country where corruption has consistently ranked as one of the biggest obstacles to doing business (as per the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report), all of us on the Integrity Initiative Board recognize that there is more work to be done.
For starters, we need broader support from the private and public sectors.
So far, more than 3,500 organizations and institutions have signed the Integrity Pledge, the organization’s formal expression of commitment to abide by ethical business practices and support a national campaign against corruption. That is, however, a small proportion of committed partners if you consider the big picture. From the public sector alone, for example, only 45 government agencies have signed the pledge – a number that is dwarfed even by just the total number of local government units across the country.
During the first Dream Philippines Fair, an event organized in October last year by another good governance crusader – Institute for Solidarity in Asia – as a venue to share best practices in good governance, my fellow Integrity Initiative board member Henry Schumacher emphasized the need for continuous dialogue between the private and public sectors to create an environment of transparency and accountability.
Nepal found a creative and engaging way to do just that. Non-government organization Accountability Lab Nepal developed a TV show called “Integrity Idol,” a competition much like “American Idol” wherein ordinary citizens vote for their favorite contestant through SMS or online. But instead of opening the competition to amateur singers, “Integrity Idol” features civil servants who are judged by their fellow Nepalese based not on their talent, but on the integrity they display at work.
The campaign was so successful – tens of thousands of votes were cast on its first year and the finale was broadcast to millions of people – that the TV show was replicated in Liberia in 2015, and in Mali and Pakistan in 2016. Nepal is set to crown its third Integrity Idol at a national ceremony in three days.
Considering Filipinos’ enthusiasm for reality show competitions and their belief in the power of each person’s vote, it would be interesting to see how “Integrity Idol” would play out here in the Philippines. Certainly this positive approach to building integrity in the public sector would be a refreshing contrast to our oftentimes toxic political climate.
Another effort we’d like to focus on is developing a sound framework that the government can consider in its anti-bribery/corruption drive. This country has no lack of laws designed to fight corruption, but implementation can be inconsistent and cumbersome.
Global anti-corruption organization Transparency International notes that freedom of information (FOI) Acts have helped some governments curb corruption. We have that now, albeit in a limited form, with the FOI Executive Order; hopefully this effort at transparency will become more comprehensive in time and will encourage citizens to participate in ensuring government accountability.
Still, other countries have established agencies with the sole purpose of fighting corruption. Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) is one success story that we would do well to consider.
Established in 1974 when bribes and grease money were common features of business and government transactions in Hong Kong, ICAC was given the power and the independence necessary to investigate cases of corruption and prosecute involved parties both from the public and private sectors. Its three-pronged approach to its mandate – effective law enforcement, prevention and education – has helped ensure fairness and justice in society. Many credit the commission for turning Hong Kong into the efficient international financial hub it is today.
Interestingly, the ICAC made its name in its early days cleaning up Hong Kong’s then notorious police force.
Like I said, we, at the Integrity Initiative, have a lot of work to do this 2017, and we are looking forward to working more closely with various sectors of society in institutionalizing integrity and good governance.
The Duterte administration has promised to focus on fighting corruption, in addition to stamping out illegal drugs and criminality, and has indicated interest in the Integrity Initiative’s working framework, starting with the integrity pledge and the certification process undertaken by private entities who join the Intergrity Initiative. We hope you will join us in this journey as we get a fresh start to make this a better Philippines.
For those who are interested in the Integrity Initiative’s various projects, you may visit our website at www.integrityinitiative.com for more information.
* * *
The author is the managing partner and CEO of Navarro Amper & Co., the local member firm of Deloitte Southeast Asia Ltd. – a member firm of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited – comprising Deloitte practices operating in Brunei, Cambodia, Guam, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.