Integrity, anyone?

MANILA, Philippines – Key business groups gathered on September 7, 2011 in Makati City to announce the upcoming “Integrity” summit. On September 14 President Aquino, representing the executive arm of the government, and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., representing the legislative, are expected to affix their signatures on the Integrity Pledge initiative, formalizing their commitment to a corruption-free and ethical workplace.

The underlying message is this: If business leaders are committing to do right, so should government people at the very top.

“The tone set at the top is extremely important,” said businessman Ramon del Rosario. “We know from our history that the leader of our country or of a company sets the tone.”

Del Rosario is chairman of the influential Makati Business Club (MBC), which is at the forefront of the Integrity Pledge, a certification system aimed at curbing corruption. They target the chairman or the chief executive officer of companies commit to a set of integrity standards, which then have to be filtered down to the rest of the organization.

They hope President Aquino will set the tone for the government so practices of integrity will filter down to Cabinet members and to the rest of the bureaucracy.

The pledge

There are currently 642 foreign and local businesses that have signed up to The Integrity Pledge.

The target is 1,000 signatories by end-2011, according to Hubert d’Aboville, the vice chairman of the Integrity Initiative and president of the European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (ECCP), which launched the initiative in 2009 together with the MBC.

Current signatories shared their own efforts. Convergys, the first and only BPO to sign the Integrity Pledge, requires all employees go through ethics certifications, does not accept gifts from suppliers, and mandated that any giveaway should be approved by the head office in Cincinnati.

Siemens Philippines has its own 24-hour hotline for reporting fraudulent actions, a policy of informing all partners about their compliance program and a minimum of 8 web-based and in-person trainings for employees.

Chevrolet tries to bring understanding even into employees’ homes by holding informational forums for their families.

Corruption, honor

In their dealings with government, local and foreign businessmen have been plagued with corruption and other unethical practices. Some of them participated as poll respondents in the World Economic Forum’s newly released Global Competitiveness Report for 2011-2012 where corruption was considered the most problematic factor for doing business in the Philippines.

These problems are all too real for Felino Palafox Jr., an architect, urban planner and current president of the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP). In real estate and construction, he said 12 signatures are required to get a building permit and 32 more for a development permit, resulting in 44 opportunities for corruption.

Going by the efforts to promote the Integrity Pledge initiative, the business groups have not given up. Del Rosario stressed that “You can be successful and still be honorable at the same time.”

Integrity summit

The Aquino administration is widely perceived as “serious” about fighting corruption, especially among the business groups who have supported the president in the 2010 polls, including the MBC.

Del Rosario, who heads the club, shared that he admires the Aquino government for ensuring that projects, especially infrastructure ones, are above board. “If there is any problem at all it is with the pace of doing works,” he shared, referring to several landmark infrastructure projects, such are rail, road, and airports, that have been delayed due to ongoing contract reviews.

Several of President Aquino’s top government officials, including Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, and tax chief Kim Henares have signed on The Intergrity Pledge. They were previously joined by Alberto Lim and Angelito Alvarez before they were replaced from their respective tourism and customs posts.

At the First Integrity Summit on September 14 at the Mariott Hotel in Manila, businessmen will witness President Aquino and other top government officials make the pledge. Hopefully the event will be more than a ceremony and will inspire others not just to accept the preaching but to practice it. – KATHERINE VISCONTI