Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Justness and Sincerity: Ethics and Accountability in Public Officials and Employees

(This paper was delivered to MA students of a particular school in San Jose on April 2004).

The Context of Justness and Sincerity (As Among the Demands of Ethical and Accountable Conduct of those in Public Service:

The issue of ethics and accountability pose a direct challenge to any government, and to any act of governance per se. The former are the key to the latter. For practically the people's trust in the integrity of political institutions seems to lie on the existence of ethics and accountability mechanisms and infrastracture and how these are effectively functioning.
The Philippine government actually has accordingly enough initiatives in ensuring ethics and accountability in public officials and accountable behavior in the public sector. In Art XI, sec. 1, "Public office is a public trust." Those in public service, it adds, must observe accountability to the people and offer a service that is done with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty and efficiency. In addition, the Constitution obliges the State to ascertain honesty and integrity in the public service and take positive and effective measures against graft and corruption. We have comprehensive laws -- (Some Philippine laws against graft and corruption: RA 3019 as amended by Presidential Decree No. 677 -- Anti-Graft and Corruption Practices Act; RA 6713 -- Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees; RA 7080 as amended by RA 7659, or the Death Penalty Law -- An Act Defining and Penalizing the Crime of Plunder; RA 6770 -- The Ombudsman Act of 1989; Presidential Decree No. 46 Making it Punishable for Public Officials and Employees to Receive, and For Private Persons to Give Gifts on Any Occasion, Including Christmas). In particular, we have RA 6713, the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, which is quite clear in matters of public officials and employees' standards of personal conduct in its fourth section under the heading "Norms of Conduct of Public Officials and Employees".
It has the following on justness and sincerity: "Public officials and employees shall remain true to the people at all times. They must act with justness and sincerity and shall not discriminate against anyone, especially the poor and the underprivileged. They shall at times respect the rights of others, and shall refrain from doing acts contrary to law, good morals, good customs, public policy, public order, public safety and public interest. They shall not dispense or extend undue favors on account of their office to their relatives whether by consanguinity or affinity except with respect to appointments of such relatives to positions considered strictly confidential or as members of their personal staff whose terms are coterminous with theirs."
To reinforce these legal infrastractures, our political leaders at least claim they are politically committed to ascertain the observance of prescribed ethical conducts of public servants and employees. And their political commitment, although too difficult to benchmark, are often demonstrated by some policy pronouncements -- examples are the promotion and institutionalization of one-stop shops in some government agencies, or the implementation of sustained training and orientation program on anti-graft and corrupt practices laws (as in Angat Pinoy 2004, the MTDP or the framework of the Philippine socio-economic development). The legal infrastracture and the political commitment of our leaders are further supported by the existence of oversight institutions -- such are the Civil Service Commission (the central personnel agency of the government), the Office of the Ombudsman, and the Commission on Audit (the fiscal watchdog of the government)-- which are not subject to the fiscal controls of the executive and possess quasi-judicial powers.
We may likewise count among the ethics and accountability infrastractures the role of active citizenry. The people are actually contributing either through government programs that bank on the market principle at work in government operations -- e.g., the Mamamayan muna, Hindi Mamaya Na! program -- or through the people's (PO's and NGO's) initiatives.
But still we have to contend with the very high cost of betrayal of public trust that has become endemic in the government and in public service! Actually, the curving of corrupt practices in the Philippine government has become concern of even the foreign aid donors, including the World Bank, as the correlations between the strong presence of corruption and the undermining of State capabilities are well established.
Failures in the Specific Demands of Justness and Sincerity:
While in delving into the specifics of justness and sincerity, it would have been desirable to "positively" expound on the topic, I fear I have to resort to identifying the failures that are observably obviously committed viz. the demands of justness and sincerity. And I strongly believe you would more easily have a handle on.
A part of life -- that it is in the Philippines! Imagine that just to acquire a driver's license, we shell out "grease money" to facilitate the processing of one's application by the licensing office. To make the matter worse, people do not seem to care enough to weed these practices out on account of the time and effort involved in filing cases and appearing as witness when it is uncertain that erring public servants will be penalized.
We can with great ease identify six main areas of government areas identified as graft-prone. These are:
  • Elections -- For example, vote buying and padding of voters' list.
  • Legislation -- The perks and privileges of our solons; they have discretion over the allocation, use and disbursement of development funds.
  • Revenue Assessment and Collections -- Bribes are paid to lower assessments or into into compromises.
  • Regulatory and Licensing Arrangements -- Money is given to obtain licenses.
  • Law Enforcements -- Bribe money is paid to avoid prosecution or to settle cases.
  • Appointments or/and Promotions --- Preference is given to relatives or friends in appointment or promotion, some positions are "sold" to highest bidder.

As we identify these failures, we must over and over again remind ourselves with the national condition that they have brought us to. Lest we forget that as public servants we are potential contributors to our already sad state.

  • In 2000, it was estimated that 34% of the Filipino population lived below the poverty threshold level. The cost of living escalates, while the purchasing power of our monetary unit depreciates. The prices of basic commodities steadily rise, while the minimum daily wage remains the same, even eroded by the decelerating value of the peso.
  • Social inequity, i.e., concentration of landholdings in landlord's hands, political power in political dynasties, and wealth in the hands of the rich
  • As of January 2004, the country's foreign debt is P3.41 trillion. If the liability is equally divided among all Filipinos, each must cough up PhP41,585.00. 40% of the national budget is for debt servicing (big thanks to PD 1177!), while the budget allocations for health, education and agriculture, among others are on steady decline.
  • It has been observed that, after deducting debt servicing and personnel expense, at least 20% of the national budget is eaten by corruption.
  • Corruption wolfs down 30% of tax collection, 20% of government's procurement budget, and 50% of allocations for road building (2004 World Bank Report: Combatting Corruption in the Philippines).
  • The Corruption Perception Index survey conducted annually by Transparency International reveals that corruption in the Philippines is worsening -- 65th least corrupt in 2001 when 91 countries were surveyed; 77th among 102 countries in 2002; and 92nd among 133 in 2003.

Lord, help us...

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