Sans FOI law, economic cost of corruption piles up — think tank

Ramon Royandoyan - Philstar.com
Sans FOI law, economic cost of corruption piles up � think tank
There were several attempts to pass an FOI law in the past.
Philstar.com / File Photo

MANILA, Philippines — The absence of a strong freedom of information law has economic costs that continue to pile up as the country wrestles with transparency, which is a key element in fighting corruption in the government, an analyst said.

Zy-za Suzara, executive director of the Institute for Leadership, Empowerment, and Democracy (iLEAD), a policy think tank, said an online forum organized by the Makati Business Club on Tuesday that the government loses a big chunk of the state’s annual budget to corruption — funds that could have been used for social and economic programs.

"If we would like to imagine the cost from the lack of legislation on FOI, we have to look at losses to corruption. Recent studies from the Ombudsman itself, it's around 20% of the national budget," Suzara said.

There were several attempts to pass an FOI law in the past. Under the Arroyo administration, an FOI bill was approved in the bicameral conference committee, but lawmakers at the House of Representatives failed to ratify the measure due to a lack of quorum on the final day of congressional session in 2010.

Efforts were revived during the Aquino administration, but these also failed after the bill was stalled in the House. When he took over, President Rodrigo Duterte signed an executive order FOI that only covers the executive branch.

"So if in the past we had some P4 trillion budget, let's estimate P700 billion to P1 trillion of that is lost to corruption," Suzara added.

"The lack of transparency means increased discretion. We do not like discretion, it becomes so political, it becomes a tool for patronage. Only legislators, only local politicians benefit from it," Suzara added.

These come at the cusp of a change in leadership in the Philippines, as the country will hold its presidential elections in May. The next president will have to contend with the worsening perception of corruption in the public sector. Among the frontrunners to replace Duterte, only Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the son of the late dictator, has been unwilling to release his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth.

According to Transparency International data released in January, the country's ranking in its anti-corruption index in Duterte's last year in office slipped two spots to 117th out of 180 countries in its index, a historic low for the country.

The international watchdog said the Philippines scored 33 out of 100 on a scale that measures perceived levels of corruption within the government. A score of 100 means "very clean" while a zero indicates that the public sector is "highly corrupt."

"If there's no FOI, the country loses. It's disempowering," Suzara said.

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