by Manuel L . Quezon III
TONY Man-wal Kwok, former deputy commissioner and head of operations of Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), is trying to give Filipinos the benefit of his experience. He served for 35 years in customs control, drug enforcement, finance investigation, intelligence and prosecution for the Hong Kong government, and joined ICAC as an investigator when it was established in 1975. He rose to the post of deputy commissioner and head of operations in 1996 and led the agency through Hong Kong’s reunification with China in 1997. His message to Filipinos attending a three-day seminar on fighting corruption was simple and direct. “We need tough political will in order to battle corruption,” he said, adding that “We cannot rely on a single agency, everybody needs to respond in fighting corruption.”
Kwok has pointed out that fighting corruption requires three things. First, political will from the top, not just from the executive but also the legislative and judicial branches of government. Second, it requires the active, and not just passive, participation and support of the private sector. Third, follow-through on everyone’s part if momentum is to be created and maintained.
Another international anti-corruption expert, Fredrik Galtung of Transparency International, said in the same seminar that the Philippines should play a “catalytic role” in the international campaign against corruption because of the EDSA people power revolution that overthrew the dictatorship and restored democracy. People Power, and its motivating desire for public accountability and transparency, should therefore be both the motivation and the means for fighting corruption.
These statements should remind our officials and the public that fighting corruption can be done, but it won’t be accomplished by paying lip-service to anticorruption drives. Corruption is a shortcut that enables people to avoid observing the law. Making the shortcut an unattractive path requires that the law is easy, and logical, to obey, and that people find it easier to follow the law, than to violate it.
In turn, this requires that people both in and out of government be motivated to want to obey the law in the first place. There are many ways to motivate people, and they include fear of punishment and a basic desire to be good. As we pointed out in the case of Singapore’s experience with keeping government salaries competitive, enabling government workers to enjoy competitive incomes reduces the temptations to do wrong, and the ability of the public to try to bribe officials.
This doesn’t mean, though, that raising salaries is enough. There will always be greedy officials, and greed must be proven to carry a high price, legally and socially. The legal price must be an inflexible and harsh prosecution and conviction by the government. The social price must be to prove, in so doing, that corruption carries with it dishonor and social death.
In the case of the Marcoses and their cronies, their breaking the law hasn’t resulted in any of these things. Convictions have been few and far between, due to a combination of unmotivated and at times incompetent prosecution, a lack of political will in prodding the prosecutors, and the refusal of enough numbers of the public to punish the Marcoses by shunning them socially or politically. The same can be seen in the case of former President Estrada. The dedication of some prosecutors may be unquestionable, but in general the prosecution is losing steam. The wheels of justice are seen to be grinding extremely slowly, if at all. The prosecutorial process remains susceptible to purely political considerations. And the public has not followed through by demanding justice and a swift determination of his plunder cases.
Lifestyle checks, which the President brags about, have actually made conspicuous consumption by officials a dangerous thing. But if it only convinces crooked officials that they should be more discrete in their stealing, instead of teaching them they shouldn’t steal at all, it only makes the job of investigation and punishment that much harder. Political will consists in not only shaming, but jailing, wrongdoers.
Kwok’s statements really had as their basis a challenge to the Filipino people. It is a strong challenge. He basically dares every Filipino to do their part by not paying bribes, or turning a blind eye to wrong doing. This is the hardest part of all. Just as congressmen can say they need the pork barrel because the public wants it, and just as the public proves this by electing and reelecting congressmen who rely on pork, so will corruption continue as long as Filipinos play an active role in corrupting public servants.