For economic gains to trickle down: 'Culture of corruption needs to be changed'

By Kathleen A. Martin, The Philippine Star

Posted at May 23 2014 07:52 AM | Updated as of May 23 2014 03:52 PM

MANILA - Asian governments should work on changing the culture of corruption to allow economic gains to trickle down to the poor, delegates at the World Economic Forum (WEF) East Asia said.

“It has been part of our culture for a very long time… to change that, we all must try to change the mindset of our people,” Serge Pun, chairman of Serge Pun & Associates (Myanmar) Ltd., said yesterday.

“You must raise it to a level in which corruption is treated as cancer. We should take it as a disease and you do not treat any disease kindly – you eliminate it,” he continued.

Pun, speaking during the Transparency for Growth and Inclusion session at the WEF East Asia, said that corruption has hindered the poor from realizing economic gains. “If you look at a lot of emerging markets, they have been successful and have become prosperous but many times, the sacrifice is the gap between the poor and the rich just gets bigger,” Pun said.

“The benefits get siphoned off in pockets instead of trickling down to people,” he continued.

For the Philippines, alone, fighting corruption has been one of the main goals of the Aquino administration as creating a foundation of good governance is believed to be good economics.

“This administration has been vigorously pursuing good governance reforms and because of that we’ve been able to achieve… the restoration of the (people’s) trust,” Budget Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad said in the same session.

“Without having to increase taxes except for the sin tax reforms and without even having to borrow more, we’ve managed to invest in unprecedented curves in social protection, basic education, public health, social housing, and even in infrastructure,” he continued.

The Aquino administration has also not made any qualms in putting erring past and present government officials and employees behind bars, suspending them, and bringing them to justice.

Abad, along with other government officials, are currently embroiled in a billion-dollar corruption scandal which alleged they pocketed part of their pork barrel funds in collusion with businessmen.

But the Cabinet official stressed President Aquino’s directive is clear: To prosecute all those involved, regardless of their political leaning.

“The instruction to the Secretary of Justice is to follow the evidence and do as you should,” he said.

Dan Runde, director at the Center for Strategid and International Studies (US), said opportunities for corruption should be reduced such as cutting the steps in securing business permits, for one.

“You should also pay civil servants well… for less temptation to take bribes or moonlight and take jobs at the side,” Runde said.

“Governments should reduce the opportunities for corruption and increase overall transparency in the budget process. But there should also be a focus on the private sector side of corruption,” he added.

Ernest Saudjana, principal at The Boston Consulting Group (Indonesia), said that the youth should take the initiative to start changing the culture of corruption.

“As young people, we have the responsibility to drive this forward, educate the market and put pressure on the government to reduce corruption,” Saudjana said. – With Michael Punongbayan