THE escalating revelations of illegal insertions and lump sum appropriations in the national budget, of procurement irregularities in the Department of National Defense (DND), and violations of governance regulations by the officers of the Development Bank of the Philippines testify to a state of ethical disarray in the government service.
When we combine these with the suspension by the Ombudsman of the Mayor of Makati on suspicion of irregularities in city government construction projects, and the appointment of a new Armed Forces Chief of Staff who happens to be already facing graft charges by the Ombudsman, we feel assaulted on all fronts by a pervasive sense of scandal and corruption in government and the public service.
We are impelled to ask: What has happened to public service ethics in our country? How is the vaunted straight path program really of President Aquino faring in terms of stemming this apparent tide of immorality in our public life?
We are a nation today that desperately needs to rebuild the edifice and basis of public morality. We need to find again the standards of ethical conduct for all public officials, both elective and appointive. We should throw out of office and out of the service all those who merely smirk at the words “integrity,” “honesty” and “honor.”
Straight path either means the ethical or moral path, or doing the right thing, or just an empty slogan?
Back to basics
From a study of how other countries have successfully coped with the challenge of sleaze, scandal and hypocrisy in their government service, we are convinced that the best way to start reform and renewal in our country is to return to the basics of honest and ethical government, and to restate the basic principles of public service ethics.
In this reform effort, we should proceed from the premise that all public officials, both elected and appointed, are obligated to render honest judgment, to work hard and efficiently, and to maximize the benefit of government to every citizen.
In the book Honest Government (Praeger, 1992), the authors W. J. Michael Cody and Richardson R. Lynn have admirably distilled and codified the basic principles of public service ethics that are observed in most modern democracies.
They cite in particular six principles that would do our country and our people much good if they are widely observed in our public life. These are:
First: Public officials must not lie, cheat, or steal in any official capacity. They must obey the law. Public officials must always tell the truth to the public, other governmental bodies, and the press, except in extremely limited circumstance, such as war or national emergency, when a temporary deception may serve a paramount governmental purpose.
Second: Public officials must avoid all conflicts of interest created by business, friendship, or family relationships and must always be careful to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.
Third: Public officials owe a fiduciary duty to taxpayers and to all citizens to ensure that public funds are used efficiently. Officials and all public employees whom they supervise should be as productive as possible.
Fourth: Public officials must not allow zeal for their duties, including such duties as tax collection or law enforcement, to cause them to violate citizens’ legal rights. Public officials should not be rude or unresponsive when dealing with the public,
Fifth: Public officials should cooperate with other officials and agencies to maximize the public good, rather than acting out of cronyism or advancing the interests of politicians and of a political party.
Sixth: Public officials should perform their duties based solely on the public good, rather than on what is in their best political or selfish interest. They should not pressure public employees to assist in the officials’ political careers or reelection efforts.
We Filipinos are often confused in observing the distinction between elected and appointed officials, because one group are our chosen representatives, and the others are just chosen by the appointing power. We imagine elected officials – or they imagine themselves — as a privileged group.
Of all the rules that have been rampantly violated in our country, it is the neglect of the fiduciary duty of public officials, their duty to guard public funds. That has done the most harm to the economy and the nation. Billions of taxpayers’ money have been lost or stolen as a result. Similarly, the rule to avoid conflicts of interest and the appearance of impropriety has been wantonly violated and unevenly applied.
We believe that investigations of wrongdoing must proceed along these principles. They apply to all public officials, from the president down to the barangay official. If wrongdoing is discovered, those responsible must face consequences, and procedures must be established to ensure that such abuses do not occur again.
This issue is not a partisan matter. It should be taken up by all who care about country. Our people must awaken and look objectively at the actions of the administration and the opposition, and not simply accept what politicians and publicists say. Public vigilance is the price that we must pay for better and honest government.