The anatomy of corruption, Part 1
“Man is not, by nature, deserving of all that he wants. When we think that we are automatically entitled to something, that is when we start walking all over others to get it.”
– Criss Jami, Diotima
I have often wondered at what point an idealistic public servant begins to sink in the quicksand of self-entitlement. At what time in realpolitik does he join the ranks of the privileged elite who believe they deserve the lion’s share – much, much more than anyone else? When does he start to consider himself “untouchable,” above the rule of law? When does he acquire the belief that politics can be a lucrative family business?
How much power mutes a conscience, blurs a dream then warps the soul?
We’ve all seen, heard and read the serious allegations against VP Jejomar Binay. We stayed glued to the TV set waiting to listen to his explanation of how a parking building warranted a P2.7-billion price tag.
It was a waste of time. The definitive denial, the plausible version never came. His response was rather feeble, evasive legalese that did not sit well with majority of the Filipinos.
The plunging ratings indicate that his constituents were not convinced that there are no irregularities in Makati.
To recap what was said in his 20-minute address and the many statements thereafter:
- He was a poor orphan and a working student. He became a human rights lawyer who fought the Marcos dictatorship.
- As Makati mayor, he provided free schooling, books and uniforms for the youth while the seniors enjoyed free movies, birthday cakes and cash allowance. And by the way, the cakes were not overpriced.
- The direct testimonies are mere hearsay, not evidence that will stand up in court.
- If the vice mayor accepted kickbacks, it doesn’t mean the mayor did too.
- The estimate of the National Statistics Office that was used as the basis of the reported overpricing of the parking building is unreliable.
- COA has not seen any anomaly in the last ten years that they have been auditing Makati.
- Finally, he lamented how the senators disrespected his son, Junjun.
- He vowed not to attend the “farcical” investigations by the Senate circus.
End of story, right? In your dreams, shot back the people.
The Department of Justice has begun a probe of the Binay dynasty. The Ombudsman is scrutinizing the testimonies of the witnesses as possible basis for filing plunder charges.
Most of all, Binay’s naked presidential ambition took a big hit.
The VP’s party UNA, has threatened to file disbarment charges against DOJ Secretary Leila de Lima for daring to investigate the Vice-President. So the Binay family are willing to be subjected to a lifestyle check – but are offended by an NBI probe?
The sad truth is Binay was not the first public official, nor will he be the last to be unmasked. If indicted, he could share the shady corner with the former president (whom he is now defending) and his three allied senators who are supposedly in jail, or at least detained in hospitals.
'The higher they climb, the harder they fall'
But if we knew how corruption infects even those who started out with Utopian dreams, maybe our leaders will be less vulnerable to this virus. Just what is ground zero for this disease?
Transparency International defines corruption as "the abuse of entrusted power for private gain."
This definition embodies three elements. One, corruption occurs in both the public and private sectors (media and civil society are not immune). Two, it involves abusing power held in a state institution or a private organization. Three, the bribe-taker as well as the bribe-giver benefit, whether in money or an undue advantage.
Corruption breeds in fertile environments where accountable governance structures and processes are weak. The Anti Corruption Resource Center describes the conditions where it thrives:
- When there are imperatives and incentives that encourage corrupt transactions such as low salaries for officials who may have large and/or several families. Social norms tend to give political favor to friends, relatives and partymates.
- Availability of multiple opportunities for personal enrichment increases the temptation. Mining and oil-rich environments are more prone to exploitation. Extensive discretion over allocation of funds and resources also encourage crooked practices.
- Access to and control over the means of corruption. Control of administrative processes such as bidding, access to offshore accounts and availability of money laundersing techniques increase the probability of corruption.
- Limited risks of exposure and punishment. Corruption thrives where there are inadequate and ineffective controls. Lack of policing, investigation and prosecution; weak internal controls in financial management; auditing and personnel systems; controlled or muzzled media and civil society – corrupt politians have nothing to fear.
Before the 2010 presidential election, corruption was not an important issue to the masses. They felt that all politicians were the same. They were resigned to the premise that everyone gets corrupted in office. All will steal, some more greedily than others.
It was only when the direct correlation to the perennial problem of poverty was established that corruption became a foremost issue for the electorate. Citizens pay for services that should be free; budgets are pillaged by corrupt politicians; spending is focused on projects that will yield the biggest kickbacks; foreign investment and big business are reluctant to invest.
Most of all, public trust is diminished and the citizenry disengages with a tainted government, such as the previous administration.
It’s so true. Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap. – Rappler.com