Fight corruption with ethical leadership
IN March 2002 US President George W. Bush inaugurated the Millennium Challenge Account, a global initiative of aiding poor but qualified countries to spur economic growth. The program will give funds to developing countries to promote economic reforms and reduce corruption.
The Philippine government recently received over $20 million, or about P1 billion, to combat corruption. Simultaneously, President Arroyo ordered the release of P1 billion as the counterpart fund for the anticorruption campaign.
How will the $20-million outlay be used?
Finance Secretary Margarito Teves said that $1.4 million will go to his office, $6.5 million to the Office of the Ombudsman, $9.4 million to the Bureau of Internal Revenue and $3.1 million to the Bureau of Customs.
Other government offices, such as the Presidential Antigraft Commission, which are directed to fight corruption, will get shares from the kitty.
There are no specific guides on how the government agencies will spend the money. The Office of the Ombudsman could probably hire more prosecutors and buy more computers. It is assumed that the other offices will put the funds to good use.
But however wisely the government will use the funds, they will hardly make a dent on corruption. Government corruption is so well entrenched that it needs more than money to wipe it out. What we need is an ethical leadership at the high levels of government, strengthened by a professional and motivated civil service.
We cannot expect a corruption-free government if the core leadership does not lead by example and if the Cabinet members, other top officials and the civil servants are grossly underpaid.
Officials and bureaucrats with sizable powers, such as the power to grant or deny permits, are prone to corruption because they are poorly paid. “Pay them well or we will pay dearly,” said Singapore’s Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew when, as prime minister, he moved to raise the salaries of his key ministers and other ranking officials to approximate pay scales in the private sector.
The culture of corruption makes dishonesty the rule, not the exception, in many national and local governments. Every bureaucrat is presumed to be on the take or to be moonlighting. The conventional wisdom is that it is all right for an official to get rich quick as long as he is able to do something “good” for the country or the community.
Three elements should be considered in the fight against government corruption, according to David Walker, the US comptroller general. These are incentives, which include the salaries of government executives, to encourage them to do the right thing, openness to show that no malfeasance is committed and accountability to make sure that the right measures to a problem are taken.
We should have a strong prosecution service that has the courage to run after powerful officials. We could learn from the fearless prosecutors in South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Japan who have sent current and former government leaders to jail for corruption.
Graft robs the taxpayers of billions of pesos. It has a pernicious effect on the law-abiding civil servants. It gives the civil service a very bad name. Its pervasiveness reflects failure in governance. Official dishonesty also disillusions the people and makes them turn their backs on the law.
Corruption must be fought wherever it exists.
What The Other Papers Say
HUGO CHAVEZ’S bid to woo his Latin American compatriots may be losing steam, but another authoritarian regime’s influence is growing: China’s.
A recent deal with Cuba and a steady string of energy contracts across South America has heads turning again on Capitol Hill. Last month Sen. Larry Craig and Rep. Jeff Flake introduced a bill aimed at preventing China from “locking up resources in our own backyard” by lifting the US embargo on trade with Cuba for US oil companies. (How about lifting the US ban on drilling for oil off Florida, congressmen?)
The catalyst for the recent round of anxiety about China’s intentions is familiar. China’s state-controlled China National Offshore Oil Corp., better known as Cnooc, is participating in a consortium prospecting for oil in the Mexican Gulf, 52 miles from Florida Keys. Cnooc’s last foray close to America—a failed bid for Unocal Corp., stymied by protectionists in Congress—seems to have taught it a lesson: Lay low.
--Excerpted from The Asian Wall Street Journal
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