Institutional integrity

CHASING THE WIND - Felipe B. Miranda -
In government, the competent and the conscientious probably still outnumber those who are not. Yet, in mostly every critical government agency that comes to mind, it is the minority who are incompetent and corrupt that appears to be have its way, neutralizing the commendable efforts of their more upright colleagues and inflicting themselves on a pitifully helpless public.

Thus, whether one considers government as a whole or focuses on its agencies like the Department of Public Works and Highways, the Department of Education, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Philippine National Police, the Bureau of Customs or the Bureau of Internal Revenue, among others, one is bound to have an impression that corruption pervades the system. The perception is reflected by survey findings pointing to these agencies as being graft-laden and corruption-prone. This impression is also reinforced by independent studies suggesting that as much as 30 percent of the national budget may be diverted from their lawful objectives by the "negative bureaucratic behavior" of corrupt public officials and employees. International agencies monitoring government corruption across countries also periodically validate the people’s perceptions; they come up with rankings that regularly place the Philippines among those countries that are most rather than least corrupt.

At least one explanation for this much-flawed government performance is the underdeveloped sense of institutional integrity that those in government reflect. Those who have much integrity may personally refuse to engage in graft and corruption but they will not willfully expose and help prosecute agency colleagues who plunder or otherwise raid the public coffers.

For such people, the ultimate issue is one of personal integrity and little more. A military colonel impresses a dinner guest with how he has managed to feed his family across the years on income absolutely honestly made. From his relatively modest household, his comparatively aged car and his visibly simple lifestyle, it is easy to believe that indeed he has had nothing to do with graft in the military or elsewhere.

Less than a stone throw away, just across the street in the same area where this officer lived, his classmate – another military colonel – clearly affects a totally different lifestyle, one no legitimate military pay could have supported. Mostly everyone knows about the circumstances of this high-living military officer. While most are personally critical of him, no one – certainly not his more conscientious classmates and in particular his principled neighbor across the street – would help initiate an investigation that might expose his illegal acts and curb corruption within the military.

Personal integrity may keep many public officials honest but their misplaced sense of institutional loyalty – as distinguished from the high ground of institutional integrity – unfortunately helps shield many scoundrels in government. The fear that their institutions could suffer much public disgrace keeps many in government from exposing the shenanigans, the shameful practices and the truly heinous activities of predatory colleagues.

Whether it is a lascivious judge, an extortionist BIR or Customs examiner, a congenital human rights violator or mercenary sporting a military or police uniform or an influence-peddling DPWH or DECS ( now DEPED) official, chances are that within the concerned agencies their deserved reputation is known to mostly anyone. Still, it is seldom the case that public exposure and eventual censure are initiated from these culprits’ home agencies and by their office colleagues.

Institutional integrity suffers a terrible cost when people abjure a notion of integrity that is necessarily grounded on the personal but also extends well beyond it. This notion demands that one be personally honest but also makes imperative honesty for others within the same office. In many government agencies, most people actually refuse to mess around with public funds or undertake corrupt practices but they stop short of holding accountable and punishing their erring colleagues. Contemptuous silence and acerbic humor are deemed to be more than sufficient.

In this unfortunate context, institutions never develop the strength that ensures government officials and other workers will be governed by the rules that these institutions are supposed to productively live by or tragically die with. Institutional rule is reduced to being no more than a hollow, legalistic and oft-ignored shell; substantively, what takes over is the rule of whimsical, self-serving and normally corrupt and corrupting personalities.

This is no way to birth a strong republic.

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