Socio-cultural obstacles to development and the need
by Amb. Jose V. Romero, Jr., PH.D

President, Philippine Council for Foreign Relations Roots of Corruption

Bribery is not a monopoly in this country. It is rooted in most developing countries. In this country, it is generally assumed that public works departments and government purchasing agencies are particularly corrupt, with officials who control import and export licenses, collect customs duties and taxes, and government regulated transportation and communications systems a close second. It is assumed that whenever discretionary powers are given to officials, there will tend to be corruption. Corruption has sometimes even spread to the courts of justice forcing President Erap to talk about “hoodlums in robes”.

It is generally accepted that businessmen bribe high officials and politicians to bag business deals with the rationalization that they have to resort to the malpractice to keep their enterprises going without too many obstacles. These bribes, they glibly admit as part of their operating cost.

Bribes usually go through a middleman. Businessmen utilize third parties to deal with bureaucrats at a lower level of the government pyramid. They find the arrangement more convenient – and less objectionable – to use a professional briber or fixer as their agent, who then pays off all those cooperation is necessary for the smooth conduct of production and business for the smooth conduct of production and business. More generally, when a business transaction is to be settled, an official somewhere down the line of authority will often inform big business or multinational corporation that a higher official expects a certain sum of money for himself. Indeed, he may be using the weight of an innocent person’s name to sweeten the deal and increase his take.

In this country, where economic behaviour is not always governed by rational calculations in terms of costs and returns, “connection” must fill the gap. In such a setting, bribe to an official is not considered any different from the gifts and tributes sanctioned in the old societies. Nor is such a bribe considered different from the obligations attached to a favour given at any social level.

In this country, the extended family and compadre system invites cronyism and nepotism, in itself a form of corruption, and in general encourages moral turpitude. The prevalence of corruption is another aspect of anti- social behaviour.

The number of official discretionary powers was increased by the type of controls applied over private business prevalent in the period of commercial and monetary controls after independence. This spread of corruption in turn gave corrupt politicians and dishonest officials a strong vested interest in retaining these discretionary controls. Given the low wages of officials, especially at the middle and lower levels, corruption provides a great temptation. Corruption is thereby caught up in a vicious causal circle.

The usual way to make money by corrupt practices is to threaten obstruction and delay in official functions. This causes a slowing down of the wheels of administration to a damaging degree for business. The anxiety to avoid such delay produces the common commodity of “speed money.” The bribe giver may often not be asking for any lawful action by an official. He may simply be trying to speed up the movement of files and the reaching of decisions by government agencies.

If the official is dishonest, these procedures better his chances of receiving bribes; if he is honest, they may serve to protect him from suspicion. When people become convinced, rightly or wrongly, that corruption is widespread, an official’s incorruptibility is weakened and should resist corruption, he may find it difficult to fulfil his duties.

The obvious remedy to this problem is simpler and more precise rule and procedures for political and administrative decisions that affect private persons and business enterprises and also closer supervision.

Another solution is to limit that discretionary powers, it suggests that the pay of low-level civil servants be raised and their social and economic status be improved and made more secure. The vigilance agencies, including special police departments, should be strengthened. Laws and procedures should be changed so that punitive action against corrupt officials could be pursued more speedily and effectively. In an environment where the onus of proof of corruption is laid on the doorsteps of government it is about time that measures should also be taken against those in the private sector who corrupt public servants. In India an anti-graft committee proposed that income tax reports and assessments be made public and that more generally the practice of declaring public documents confidential be limited. In this connection, the Freedom of Information Bill approved by the president but still pending with Congress should be enacted into law post-haste. The anti-graft committee above also suggested that business enterprises be forbidden to make contributions to political parties, that whistle-blowers making bona fide complaints be protected.

Moral Rearmament

The long run solution to the issue of corruption begins with a thorough overhaul of the entire system of moral values and of the socio-economic structure of society. Such vices as trying to keep up with the Joneses or conspicuous consumption must end. A foreign observer once remarked that Filipinos were an Eastern people with Western taste and Eastern productivity who like to spend money they do not have to try to impress people they do not like. (To be continued)

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