RP weak in gov't accountability: report

by LEI CHAVEZ, abs-cbnnews.com

Posted at Feb 19 2009 07:19 PM | Updated as of Feb 20 2009 07:50 PM

Despite strong anti-corruption measures initiated in 2008, the Philippines still received a moderate overall ranking, gaining only four points higher than last year's standing, according to the Global Integrity Report released Thursday.

If it wanted to further bolster its rating, it should focus its attention on its weak spots. For the year 2008, the country received an overall score of 71 points in its Integrity Indicator Scorecard. The country scored weak in three categories this year: Civil Society, Public Information and Media (68), Elections (59), and Government Accountability (70).  (Click here to read the Integrity Indicators Scorecard and other components of the Global Integrity Report on the Philippines. Click here to read other Country Assessments.)

Further, it received a moderate standing in the categories on Oversight and Regulation (76), and Anti-Corruption and Rule of Law (71). The Philippines got a strong standing of 82 points for the Administration and Civil Service category.

Weak sub-categories include Taxes and Customs (58), Business Licensing and Regulations (58), Rule of Law (51), and Law Enforcement (60).

The Global Integrity Report is a bottom-up assessment of anti-corruption efforts in 57 countries worldwide. It is generated by local researchers and journalists. The scorecard contains various points that extensively measure the effectiveness of local policies and implementations.

Lack of formal access to information

There were bottlenecks in the Philippines when it came to acquiring data from government offices for the 2007 report, and it still remained to be a persisting problem.

The 68 score for 2008 under the Civil Society, Public Information and Media category dropped by one point from the 2007 score of 69. Although citizens have a legal right of access to communication, the report noted that "there is no established institutional mechanism where citizens can request government records."

Likewise, information and government records usually take longer to prepare and entails additional costs. Despite administrative law requiring government offices to answer requests within 15 days after receiving the request, the length of time the information or data is released still depends on "the type of information requested and the connections an individual has."

Census data or information that is included in a department's quarterly or annual reports is usually easier to obtain than other information like socio-economic data, government contracts and policies. Most often, requests for data on information of  "public concern" are rejected.

"Requests go through channels, endorsed from one table to another. And if one is not persistent in following up, his or her request may be more difficult to trace. Photocopying data is voluminous and costly. Political information takes longer to obtain and sometimes cannot be obtained at all," the report said.

'Breeding cronyism and corruption'

Further, one of the highlights of the 2008 report is the local party-list election system that, accordingly, "breeds cronyism and corruption in the political process."

In his analysis entitled, "The Future of the Anti-Corruption Movement," Nathaniel Heller, managing director of Global Integrity, noted that "When you step back and look at how party-list systems operate to elect legislatures in countries as diverse as the Philippines…you realize there's a disturbingly common thread – an embedded system of patronage that perpetuates itself over time."

According to the report, the results of the May 2007 elections and the composition of the 14th Congress showed that the party-list system does not favor the marginalized sector of society. There are also suspicions that those in power are manipulating groups by fielding political parties.
The report stated: "Only 6 of the 17 party-list groups who won seats in Congress fit the above description of representatives of the marginalized sectors. The rest of the party-list groups represent elitist interests and are accused of getting their position with a mix of fraud, influence-peddling, and heavy advertising."

Restrict financial donations

Another challenge posed by the report is the unregulated political financing during the election period in the country.

By law, there are no limitations to the individual and corporate contributions for the political candidates' campaign. Limits are only given to how much should be spent, not on the contributions given to candidates.

The report also noted that despite being required to submit a statement of all the contributions and expenditures incurred through the election period, the candidates who exceeded the limitations were not prosecuted.

The inability is assumed to have been due to lack of manpower or resources, but another comment stated that the "widely-perceived questionable integrity may well lie at the root of the inability, if not refusal, to enforce the applicable sanctions on offenders."

Weak budget processes

Likewise, the budget process was placed under a weak score, three points lower than the 2007 results and was primary due to the non-transparency of the Philippine budget procedure.

Although done according to the processes stated in the law, the report stated that "budget modifications and initiatives are negotiated behind closed doors." Likewise, the said budget is filled with lump sum items that are difficult to break down.

Budget information is also harder to access and disbursement and audit reports are often submitted a year after the fiscal period. Finally, there is no single legislative committee that oversees the expenditure of the funds. 

"Oversight functions are often not exercised," the report said. Further, the appropriations committee "oversees budget preparation but does not monitor the budget expenditure during the entire year."