Inquirer Headlines: Nation

A World with Extreme Poverty is a World of Insecurity.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Corruption preys on RP poor: UN study


Petty corruption is taking a toll on poor people in the Asia-Pacific, including the Philippines, by curbing economic development in the region, according to a United Nations Development Program study.

The report, "Tackling Corruption, Transforming Lives," said small scale corruption is draining economic growth across the Asia-Pacific region and affecting people's access to basic services. It called on governments and citizens across the Asia-Pacific to tackle corruption together by focusing on areas that impact daily life such as health, education, the police and natural resources.

"Corruption undermines democratic institutions, retards economic development and contributes to government instability. It attacks the foundation of democratic institutions by distorting electoral processes, perverting the rule of law and creating bureaucratic quagmires whose only reason for existence is the soliciting of bribes," said Hafiz Pasha, director of UNDP's regional bureau for Asia and the Pacific.

"Economic development is stunted because outside direct investment is discouraged and small businesses within the country often find it impossible to overcome the ‘start-up costs’ required, because of corruption."

The report cited a global study which shows that corruption tends to slow the income growth for the bottom 20 per cent of the population. It said corruption slows down poverty reduction by lowering growth rates and reducing the effectiveness of social programs.

The report said corruption often hinders the delivery of many of the goods and services targeted for the poor. Instead, the goods often finish up in the hands of well-off and connected households who can afford to bribe the officials. It also said that the rice and powerful get the best deals when there is a general shortage of services, public or private.

Politicians, police least trusted

According to the report, politicians are seen as the most corrupt group in government followed by the police, with the judiciary running a close third. Nearly one in five people claim to have paid a bribe to police during the previous year. Other sectors also tainted by corruption include tax collection, education, medical services, utilities and registry or permit services.

The report cited a 2005 study commissioned by the Asian Development Bank that showed that power projects in the Philippines are more expensive than international norms due to delays, heavy reliance on international consultants and contractors, corruption and extensive use of foreign currency loans.

It said corruption was involved in almost all phases of a project, from tendering and bidding to operation and maintenance as well as in privatization and the awarding of independent power-producing contracts.

The report warned that corrupt policemen could extort, abuse or even rape suspects and force them to pay for their freedom. It added that police can also seize people they know to be innocent, threatening them with arrest and demanding payment for release.

On the other hand, the report cited a number of studies that found that two-thirds or more of the Asian population consider their court system to be corrupt and admit that they consider it wise to pay bribes.

The report said governments should ensure that complaints against the police are dealt with by a truly independent body while making changes on police structures and operations
to make them more efficient and responsive. Other solutions include applying rigid recruitment criteria, reallocating individuals across tasks, modifying transfer patterns, and carrying out ethical evaluations of those who are up for promotion.

For corrupt justices, the UNDP recommended that governments ensure that judges are appointed by independent bodies, serve fixed terms, have salaries that match their experience and qualifications and are offered all necessary protection. The judicial system should also require judges to give written reasons for their judgements – making greater use of information technology to offer easier access to court documents.

Strong civil sector involvement

The report also noted the strong involvement of civil society groups in fighting corruption in the Philippine government.

Several of the anticorruption initiatives and groups cited were:

- The Action Program for Judicial Reform initiative, which monitors the selection of the chief justice, ombudsman and election commissioners

- The Transparent Accountable Governance project, which monitors textbook procurement and delivery in the Philippines

- The Concerned Citizens of Abra Good Government, which monitors government projects in the Abra region

- The Transparency and Accountability Network, which monitors road-building in the country.

The report also cited the role of journalists in reporting cases of public interest. It said the Philippine press has helped create public pressure for reform even as some reporters admitted receiving bribes.