5 steps to stamp out corruption in the Philippines

Katherine Visconti

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Top business and government leaders speak about how to root out corruption in the Philippines.

For the top leaders in business and government who were at the Philippines’ first Integrity Summit, corruption ends with a plan. On September 15th, they presented President Aquino with their blueprint, a Unified Code of Conduct with internal demands that ranged from properly paying taxes to prohibiting cover-ups and even not penalizing employees whose refusal to pay bribes results in failure to meet deadlines and loss of revenue.


At the Summit, private and public sector leaders shared their specific formulas for fighting corruption. Here are five of their top tips:


1. Try the Big Fish


Political will is the most important factor for fighting corruption, according to Tony Kwok, an anti-corruption consultant with nearly three decades of practical experience at the Hong Kong Independent Commission Against Corruption. Trials of the big-fish in government are a very public demonstration of a leader’s political will.


When people see ministers and cabinet secretaries close to the leader tried, they think, “What chance do I have?”


He cited a case in Singapore: “The first major case carried out by the anti-corruption bureau [involved] a cabinet member of Lee Kuan Yew.”  


2. Rein in family members    


The Philippines has a history of strong families wielding political and financial power. In modern times, it can be a concern that when a publicly traded company has the bulk its shares or board controlled by a single family, that company can easily disregard the interests of small shareholders for the immediate interests of the family.


The representative of historic family conglomerate Ayala Corporation, Manila Water Company’s President Gerardo Ablaza tied the corporation’s success to “effectively regulating family members roles as managers and shareholders.” He said Ayala Corporation makes it a point to have independent directors chair committees in order to foster independent voices who can check executive management.


Iwriteasiwrite who was following his speech on Twitter, chimed in, “The removal of family from the day to day operations of Ayala y Cia was a masterstroke by Joe McMicking. It has kept Ayala relevant.”


3. Put right people in right places


President Aquino, who gave the keynote address (but did not sign the Integrity Pledge at the summit) hammered home the message that his administration has appointed “people of unquestioned ability and integrity to important posts.” He cited Secretary of Justice Leila de Lima, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, and the Commission on Audit’s Chair Grace Tan as well as its Commissioner Heidi Mendoza.


Meanwhile, Tony Kwok reminded the crowd of a popular advice he attributed to Warren Buffet: “In looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if they don’t have the first, the other two will kill you.”


4. Set up systems for whistleblowers


Not only the Unified Code of Conduct but also several attendees, including Department of Finance Secretary Cesar V. Purisima, stressed the need for systems that allow confidential reporting.


Purisima said that even before personally signing the Integrity Pledge to stop corruption, he helped launch http://www.perangbayan.com/, which allows citizens to submit reports against tax evaders, smugglers and erring officials without disclosing their identity. He says “Of the submissions, we filed four cases, over fifty are being investigated and the rest do not have enough information so I urge (Filipinos) to submit complete information to help us.”


One signatory, German firm Siemens, which has been found to have paid kickbacks and bribes to win contracts, said it has set up a whistle-blower hotline operating around the clock.


5. Create a plan that works for you


Integrity Initiative chairman Ramon del Rosario stressed that the Unified Code of Conduct is a basic document and that the next step is for industries to come up with their own specific codes that address the different idiosyncrasies in their professions.


There are now nearly 700 businesses who have pledged to be a part of the Integrity Initiative, the private sector led campaign for instituting ethical standards, spearheaded by the Makati Business Club and the European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines. The Initiative is targeting 1,000 signatories from a range of businesses by year-end.

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