Allegations of widespread misuse of public funds by the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) represent the continuing problem of corruption in the country. All over the world, it has been shown that the battle against corruption is waged not by government accountability agencies alone. Civil society organizations (CSOs) have proven themselves to be reliable co-producers in fighting corruption.
The late Professor of Political Science and 2009 Nobel laureate Elinor Ostrom defined co-production as “the process through which inputs used to produce a good or service are contributed by individuals who are not in the same organization. Co-production implies that citizens can play an active role in producing public goods and services of consequence to them.” As an organized entity working for citizen interests, civil society can co-produce anti-corruption programs with public and societal stakeholders.
Last week, the Transparency International (TI)-Philippines celebrated its silver anniversary as a CSO with a forum on “Fighting the Pandemic of Corruption” held in partnership with the Stratbase ADR Institute and Democracy Watch Philippines.
During the forum, Judge Dolores Español, Chair of TI-Philippines, narrated the contributions of her organization in the co-production of inputs that were utilized over the years in various anti-corruption campaigns. The role of civil society in governance and development is acknowledged by the 1987 Constitution. Article 1, Section 23 stipulates that “the State shall encourage non-governmental, community-based, sectoral organizations that promote the welfare of the nation.”
The function of civil society in fostering rules-based governance globally is shown in the work of Transparency International, founded by Dr. Peter Eigen in 1993. With headquarters in Berlin, TI has accredited national chapters in more than 90 countries. When TI-Philippines was launched in 1995, it started to produce a directory of government agencies and CSOs doing anti-corruption work. A database was set-up for public, business, and civil society sectors to explore networking and collaborative activities against corruption.
TI-Philippines was a key player in the formation of Integrity Circles in government. In partnership with the Civil Service Commission and the support of the United Nations Development Program, TI-Philippines’ produced the 2010 manual on Organizing Integrity Circles written by Dr. Antonio Roldan, Jr.
According to Judge Español, TI-Philippines cooperated with several government agencies including the Government Service Insurance System, Department of Public Works and Highways, Philippine Navy, and Philippine National Police in the implementation of the Integrity Circles Program.
In this program, the integrity circles were set up in the critical or corruption vulnerable sections of each agency. Each integrity circle consisted of five to 10 personnel from the same office who perform similar or related functions. They committed to abide by the values of honesty and professionalism and to improve their delivery of public services.
Integrity circles are work groups tasked to develop tools for diagnosing corrupt practices and creating action plans to address the identified problems. Top-level management personnel are designated to be part of the Integrity Circle Committee that reported on the work progress. Aside from working with agency personnel, the program tapped outside organizations to constitute Integrity Circle Support Groups whose job is to help monitor, evaluate, and reward the honesty and performance of the integrity circles.
The TI-Philippines manual emphasized that the integrity circles would be most useful in agencies that are prone to corruption. These organizations suffer from the following features: 1.) loose management controls; 2.) unclear ethical and performance standards; 3.) weak personnel recruitment and selection systems; 4.) patronage-driven promotion systems; and, 5.) blurred service procedures for clients.
If we go by the initial findings from the Senate and House of Representatives probe on alleged corruption in PhilHealth, the insurance agency would be a prime candidate for an integrity check based on the criteria provided by TI-Philippines.
Arguably, the level of civil society engagement in anti-corruption work, including that of TI-Philippines, has declined in recent years. It is welcome news that TI-Philippines intend to revive its dormant programs and introduce transparency and accountability work to a younger audience.
The tools, manuals and programs developed by TI-Philippines can be recalibrated to suit the contemporary governance context. New co-production mechanisms can be established to address the new practices that have emerged to contravene the rule of law and use public office for private benefits.
Today, the Corruptions Perceptions Index of TI represents a knowledge intermediary between and among countries to craft anti-corruption strategies on all fronts. These strategies are all the more important now that we face a pandemic. And, as TI has shown over the years, an engaged civil society plays a vital role in these strategies and in the fight for more transparent and accountable governance.
Corruption can be controlled through a combination of ethical codes, prosecution of offenders, organizational change, institutional reform, and the rule of law.
Dr. Francisco A. Magno is a Trustee and Convenor of the Right Governance and Open Governments Program, Stratbase ADR Institute