Integrity Commission – time to dare!
AS EASY AS ABC - Atty. Alex B. Cabrera (The Philippine Star) - February 17, 2019 - 12:00am

Law permitting, if there is a video recording of everything transacted and discussed in government, there will be accountability. Conversely, without transparency, there is no accountability. Without the public knowing what is really happening, there is simply impunity. Lack of transparency on corruption is what darkness is to molds. Cover is what is needed for these two products to develop unabated.

Having said that, I just probably insulted people’s intelligence because I haven’t said anything new. If knowledge about the darkness and molds were all that was needed, we would have solved our issues on corruption. We would be a nation of integrity, the darling of investors, a First World country. But we are not.

If you look at First World countries like the US, they have reliable institutions which, although imperfect, are trustworthy. For example, if the FBI or the IRS trains their sights on you, the investigation and case will not go away until you are toast. When they begin to work, they keep at it, sometimes very silently. Not propaganda and grandstanding first then nothing follows – which is an all-too-familiar occurrence in this part of the world.

Here, we have the Ombudsman to investigate and prosecute cases of graft and corruption. We have the Commission on Audit, which audits the use of public funds, and that means they can only act after the transactions have been done, recorded (or not), and dusted. We also have hotlines that direct calls to the Office of the President.

The thing is, we can keep relying on our existing institutions and systems to solve corruption issues, and risk falling squarely upon the sage definition of stupidity – which is doing the same things but expecting a different result.

Or, we can do what about 50 economies have done – create an independent agency whose sole reason for existence is to solve the corruption issue. This anti-corruption agency, called by many names in different territories, can be called here as the Integrity Commission.

Before you write it off as BS, we should seriously take a look at the successes of other countries, starting with our neighbors.

For example, probably the most successful in the lot is Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC). The World Bank case study reported that until the early 1970s, illegal kickbacks, protection rackets, and briberies were accepted as a way of life in HK. So much so that ambulance men asking for “tea money” before picking up a sick person was commonplace. The Hong Kong government established ICAC to remove “rotten apples” in the system. It gained so much public trust because they hide the complainant or whistleblowers behind a strict cloud of secrecy, they deliver results by putting the “rotten” in jail, and they constantly solicit feedback from the public on how they are performing, how they are seen by the public, and how they can improve. They investigate and prosecute, as well as educate and prevent.

If HK were a good model to follow, the Indonesian Corruption Eradication Commission (most commonly known among locals as KPK), I would say, is the boldest. Proponents of the right to privacy would frown on its methods, which include tapping in on people’s phone conversations to gather evidence, and also using “spies” or agents to find out what is really going on in a certain government agency. In its initial years, it had a dedicated, centralized judiciary to hear and prosecute cases pursued by the Commission.

The result was that for the first five years of its operations, it had 100 percent conviction rate, and put more than 250 erring individuals behind bars, including prominent ones. Because they deliver results, they have a lot of credibility as well on the prevention and education side. The ride of the KPK is riddled with challenges, not without controversy, and was always facing strong opposition from incumbents. But the Commission always had presidential support and that is also because the public rallies behind them.

The biggest challenge to having the required legislation passed is that it’s like the proverbial rock a politician can pick up to hit his own head with. But if we say no one will push that legislation here, then we admit that there are honorable legislators elsewhere but there is no one here?

We should not refuse to learn from what other nations have dared. The first task in defeating corruption is not to be part of it. If we do not tolerate it, we should find new ways to defeat it. For the creation of our own independent Integrity Commission, for our good as a nation, I register this article as my first cry.

* * *

Alexander Cabrera is the chairman of the Integrity Initiative Inc. (II Inc.), a non-profit organization that promotes common ethical and acceptable integrity standards. And he is the chairman and senior partner of Isla Lipana & Co./PwC Philippines. Email your comments and questions to aseasyasABC@ph.pwc.com. This content is for general information purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional advisors.

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