WASHINGTON D.C. - The Aquino administration is making headway in its anti-corruption campaign but faces huge obstacles reversing a culture of graft that thrives in the shadows of the bureaucratic maze, a spokesman of President Aquino said.
The hindrances are so potent, Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda confessed he couldn’t even give a ballpark figure of just how much the government saved – despite numerous anecdotal accounts – from over 2 years of fighting graft.
"We’re not there yet. Malaking bagay na ang presidente ay matino pero meron pa rin mga pasaway (It’s important to have an honest president but there are still some who refuse to follow the example)," he told the Filipino-American press at the Philippine Embassy here.
As an example, Lacierda said the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) – perceived to be among the government's most corrupt agencies – was able to save about $1.4 billion (P6 billion) by simply ordering the rebidding of dike projects in former President Arroyo’s home province of Pampanga.
Even without changing the specifications of the contract, he said contractors instantly slashed their quotations by 25 percent.
Lacierda was in town to participate in the Open Data Conference organized by the World Bank. He said the Philippine government views open data "as a framework to make sure we implement transparency."
Among the most important initiatives of the Aquino administration is the Budget Department website that shows how the government will be spending taxpayers’ money all the way to 2013.
The Department of the Interior and Local Government has also started posting spending in provinces and cities.
"We believe it would be best for us to start disclosing data. We need to bring it out," Lacierda said.
The spokesman said the Philippines joined the 3-day conference to learn about experiences of other countries that have launched open data programs. He cited the case of Brazil that took 6 years to build an open data network and put everything online, down to the salary of lowly public officials.
"I don’t know if that’s feasible for us but we’re looking at everything," he said.
Renaud Meyer, United Nations Development Program (UNDP) country director, said the Philippines loses about $500 million (P1.92 billion) to corruption every year. Over a 20-year period, that’s close to half a trillion pesos.
The Palace spokesman believes graft has dug so deeply, it has become ingrained in the bureaucratic culture. "There is resistance because traditionally people don’t like to put information out," Lacierda said.
He cited the Department of Health whose reports are usually 3 years old by the time they are made public.
"We are so delayed in the release of information. We’re asking for discipline in gathering information. That’s what we want to instill in the bureaucracy but it’s going to take time," he said.