Sunday, April 20, 2008

Source of Filipino problems

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Philippines Daily Inquirer journalist Gemma Dimaculangan, in a call to all Filipinos, exclaims in print “We can do much more for our country” (23rd Apr08, page A14). This is nothing more than an empty appeal to nationalist pride, which is the typical nonsense from public dignitaries. Filipinos need something more concrete. They need accountability and they need public figures to set the example. If you want effective leadership from your political leaders, first you need measures that ensure compliance. Western governments had lawlessness on the ‘wild west’, and there is two qualities that eradicated it:

1. Enforcement

2. Accountability

Once the enforcers outnumber the transgressors, the number of transgressors falls. It is no longer practical to be a criminal. Today corrupt officials act with impunity because senior officials laugh it off as ‘Filipino culture’. So how do you end corruption? Well it starts at the top, not at the bottom.

1. Journalists gather to establish a position of unity that says ‘No to corruption’. Journalists establish a union or membership, with the rule being they agree not to engage in corruption. If they engage in corruption they lose their membership. The peak body needs to secure the agreement of media groups. Members need to tell corrupt officials they cannot be bought, that they cannot be blackmailed, they cannot be threatened.

2. The journalist peak body needs to have an amnesty where journalists who in the past have been paid to write certain articles will not be punished for prior transgressions. They should be able to confidentially divulge their acts to the peak body.

3. The peak body and media groups need to train journalists to become better critical thinkers, to know how to identify a story, to pursue the facts. The reason that corrupt officials act with impunity is that they are not accountable. Journalists are the only people with the capacity to ‘name & shame’ officials, and as a consequence prompt the government to increase enforcement.

4. Harsher penalties are likely to follow since the government will not want to convey any sympathy with corrupt officials.

5. Journalists need to maintain their vigilance in ensuring the government does not just respond with rhetoric, but responds with meaningful action. They need to ensure corrupt officials are dealt with in accordance with 'due process'.

The Philippines is not corrupt because of corruption as this article states. This country is in ‘bad shape’ because the people with the power to end corruption don’t take the necessary steps. The corruption was there from the start. Its always been like that. Its always been practical to buy loyalty. The solution to the problem starts with journalists. The Philippines needs journalists who engage in investigative called 'intellectuals'.

You can't expect lesser people to turn down opportunities for graft if the opportunities are taken by others. These people get rich by robbing the poor, middle class and rich. Really they make no distinction. Everyone pays a huge opportunity cost. The poor have no education to avoid it, even if they dont have much to lose. The aspirational middle class are greedy for more money, so they are inclined to be held back the most. For the rich its a significant cost of doing business.

But Gemma is on the right track. She needs I think to incite disgust among her fellow journalists, to organise them under a pact, as opposed to making empty statements about how bad things are. We know the general state of things. She is one in a position to take action in the right forum. This is a start, but its a false start. There are corruption cases that we never get to the bottom of. There needs to be a campaign of disclosure. The media should create a 'hotline' for members of the public to call when there is a politician sniffing cocaine, or a one paying bribes. A lot of these deals are done behind closed doors. Fine. It takes two to make a deal. Sometimes they are rejected. Let the facts remain on the record. There will be attempts to discredit people. But actually thats harder to do than you think. Bad people have a track record. Cynics will say that they just have not been caught. But more often than not they start small and scale up their indiscretions.

For teachers to enlist students in empty rhetoric because the democratic process really gives them no power. What good is a choice if you have 'no choice'. Why is multiple competitors good in the private sector, but not desirable for government?

Andrew Sheldon
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