ISSN 2330-717X

Prospect Of Deterring Corruption And Holistic Governance: Building The Nation On The Rocks – Analysis

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Introduction

This essay is a concise discourse on holistic governance as a political and administering instrument in abating corruption; a style of governance that may restrain and deter corruption in the Philippines. This is an extension of my previous piece on holistic governance that appeared in Eurasia Review earlier.

In today’s globalized economy, corrupt habits and customs are undertaken by multiple actors and perpetrators rather than in isolation. They are carried out in multiple borders and business sectors rather than in a single country and solitary sector. Countries with higher levels of corruption have lower levels of economic growth (Mauro 1995), less investment, lower levels of inward foreign investment (Wei 2000), and increases the costs of doing business (Svensson 2005). 

Corrupt behaviours include the commission of a range of offences, from tax crime and money laundering, to breaking anti-trust law and fraud as well as bribery and embezzlement. Political corruption is prevalent and manifested in any of the following: abuse of public power, office, or resources by elected government officials or their network of contacts for illegitimate personal gain, by extortion, soliciting, offering bribes, lobbying, cronyism, nepotism, patronage, influence peddling, graft, and purchasing votes by enacting laws which use taxpayers’ money. In terms of victims, corruption does not discriminate, but the world’s poorest and most vulnerable across sectors suffer the worst rather than the rich. 

In the Philippines for instance, corruption continues to be one of the major issues. Despite the repeated promises of every Philippine President since the post-war until the advent of democratic regimes after the fall of Marcos Sr.’s authoritarian rule to extirpate graft and corruption in government, it has not been realized. For the past 76 years after its independence from American colonial rule, political leaders, civil servants, and general citizens are aware that corruption is rampant and efforts to curb it remains a failure. It has grown over seven (7) decades spreading to the vital centres of government. 

It was a surprised that in the State of the Nation Address (SONA) delivered by the newly elected President Ferdinand Marcos Jr’s on 25 July 2022, he did not mention anything about resolving the issue of graft and corruption in government. In a survey conducted by Pulse Asia in September 2022, two (2) months after the SONA, reveals that 36 percent of Filipinos believe that corruption has yet to be controlled. This was echoed by 67% of business leaders on a joint survey done by the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) and Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) on the same month. They affirm that any economic recovery plans of the Marcos Jr administration will be uncertain with unbridled corruption. 

In the 2019 Corruption Perception Index (CPI), one of the most trusted measures of corruption around the world published by Transparency International (TI), the Philippines ranked 113 least corrupt out of 180 countries with a score of 34 (TI, 2020). In 2020 and 2021, the country scored 34 and 33 respectively. According to TI, two-thirds of countries scored below 50, indicating serious corruption problems. Unfortunately, the Philippines belongs to the group which scored below 50 signifying bearing serious corruption problems (TI 2021).

The paper hypothesizes that limiting feats of corruption necessitates that government take a holistic view not only of its own capacity to discover, avert, examine and investigate, and prosecute corrupt individuals, groups, or syndicates in the public and private sectors but also take a whole-of-society perspective to deal with corruption. As corruption leads to the misallocation of resources, harms public and private sector development, distorts public policy, and erodes the legitimacy of state and government, the paper argues that holistic governance stands as a better governing framework to be institutionalized in the Philippines over time.

Brief review of the concept of holistic governance (2)

Conceptually, holistic governance is a framework of governing introduced by Perri 6 (originally named David Ashworth) in his 1997 book, Holistic Government, and further developed in 2002 by 6 and colleagues, Towards Holistic Governance: The New Reform Agenda, aimed to solve complex problems that cut across departmental boundaries and realize greater integration of public institutions in the delivery of societal goods and services across the public sector. It is contemplated that achieving holistic governance requires a better bureaucratic structure and system not only in implementing, administering, and regulating rules and policies of government but also in serving as a politico-administrative mechanism in altering mass cultures, norms and behaviour, and attaining better general welfare and well-being of the people. 

In essence, holistic governance covers vertical and horizontal modes of public affairs that involves an increased participation of the private sector/actor in co-producing and co-distributing public services (Gao et.al. 2013). Moreover, it entails democratic attributes in governance such as co-operative, collective, openness, participative, and deliberative processes (Hu and Tang 2010; Wang et. al 2018). Nakrošis et.al. (2018 however claim that any measure in governance reform obliges consistent “policy reforms and strong reform leadership” to mobilize a coalition of support to fulfil reform commitments. Hence, it is crucial that a strong political will and leadership is to be displayed on the part of key political leaders to transform a disjointed governance to holistic governance.

With the phenomenon of globalisation and internet revolution, the meaning of governance encompasses levels of sub-national, national, and cross-national governments as well as the variety of public bodies and public-private partnerships (Flinders & Smith, 1999; Light 2000). The advancement of information technology makes e-government an inevitable governing option. It is undeniable that improving e-government services through more effective use of data is a major focus of countries globally. 

Public e-services and projects are carried out within the framework of holistic governance (Felix, R., et.al. 2017). Among its key features is laying emphasis on the unique role of governments which provide information, data, aggregation processes, and other policy tools in an attempt to empower enterprises to deliver public services (Hardi and Buti 2012). 

Yet, attaining the goal of holistic governance compels political leadership to ensure that governance is free from corrupt behaviour and practices. The foregoing examines how holistic governance, serving as a tool, in mitigating if not resolving systemic corruption (committed collectively rather than individually) in Philippine government.

Tackling corruption 

Combatting corruption commands a strong political will among some key influential politicians and bureaucrats. It involves heightened awareness and consciousness of the linkages and relationships between the various serious economic crimes that are often engaged in corruption cases, including ensuring that governments have the tools and capacity necessary to warrant effective inter-departmental and inter-agency information sharing, with appropriate safeguards. Finding these synergies is a question of meaningfully and sustainably co-ordinating between different areas of expertise and specialization.

In view that holistic governance employs the use of advance information technology, builds statistical capacity, develops ICT infrastructure, and enables civic technology activities to generate knowledge, data, aggregate processes, and other policy tools engendered by public resources and services, it is essential that government processes and public-private transactions and innovations have to be transparent and accountable. This makes available services to be trustworthy and improves citizens’ confidence not only on public goods but also on government institutions. 

Transparency and accountability

In simplest term, transparency means having nothing to hide, openness, and honesty. The implication of transparency is that all of an organization’s actions should be scrupulous enough to bear public scrutiny. For government, it allows its processes and transactions observable and verifiable to outsiders and ensures that actions could be checked at any given time by a non-government actor or observer. It permits any question that may arise along the way to be answered clearly by the government and its instrumentalities. 

Transparency in holistic governance does not only render the necessary disclosures on government records, contracts, transactions and other information requested by the public (except on national security) but includes the unfolding of the methods on how such information and data are derived and extracted. Unlike the usually known notion of “transparency” whereby government provides access to facts and figures as enquired by the interested public (as stipulated by the Freedom of Information (FOI) Program or Executive Order 02 of 2016) (3), the holistic approach divulges the tools used to generate the information, how data are analysed and interpreted, and by what means that conclusions are drawn. The availability of right and accurate information could be used by citizens, civil society organizations, private organizations, and other interested parties and stakeholders to build cases against corrupt officials of government for prosecution and deter possible “thieves” in government from committing acts inimical to the interest of the government and people.

Moreover, Lindstedt and Naurin (2010) contend that merely making information available will not prevent corruption if education, freedom of the press, and fair elections are fragile, ineffective, and feeble. The study finds out that reforms focusing on increasing transparency should be accompanied by measures for strengthening citizens’ capacity to act upon the available information if positive effects on corruption are to be realized and brought to fruition.

Perceptibly, aforesaid conditions are in effect and existent in a society where democratic values and institutions are generally and relatively respected and recognized. 

Democratic values and institutions

In holistic governance, online transactions among others, are set to achieve efficiency, quality, security, and more importantly uphold democratic rule and values through a digital technology that is able to foster governmental operations that enhances the delivery of integrated public services in a fair, just, consumer-focused, and socially-oriented manner. In parallel with T&A, they have their democratic functions as well in view that a high degree of clarity and  openness would increase the capacity of the majority of the population, especially the poor and/or marginalised people, to play a greater role, at least at the local level, in policy formulation, implementation, and evaluation that affect their lives and future on the one hand, and increases the scale of answerability and culpability of government authorities on their duties and responsibilities on the other hand. 

In several studies concerning the nexus between democracy and corruption, it has been documented that well-established democracies have lower levels of corruption compared to authoritarian regimes or young democracies (Fjelde & Hegre 2014, Kalenborn & Lessmann, 2013, Mohtadi & Roe 2003, Treisman 2000). The National Endowment for Democracy’s (NED) (2019) Democracy Digest  additionally claim that “countries which recently transitioned to democratic governance often did not develop effective anti-corruption and integrity mechanisms, and now find themselves stuck in a cycle of high corruption and low-performing democratic institutions.” Certainly, as corruption diverts scarce resources of the country from public to private gain, it undercuts democracy. Similarly, it is avowed to weaken the rule of law, social justice, popular will, and undermine trust and confidence of the citizens in political institutions and processes (Holmes 2006, Jong-sung & Khagram 2005).

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) notes that democratic regimes experience corruption when they “lack transparency in political and campaign financing, have outdated laws on freedom of information, provide insufficient protection to whistle-blowers or have unreliable media” (p. 10). Nevertheless, other studies show that democratic regimes which are fairly transparent and accountable are not necessarily free from corruption (Ferrin 2016; McMann et.al 2017; Seldadyo & De Haan 2011; Shen 2005; Uslaner & Rothstein 2016). Corruption scandals recorded in the United States, United Kingdom, Iceland, Spain, and other Western countries exhibit the degree of corruption among the foremost democratic countries of the world (Gamir 2015). 

Apparently, cases illustrate that there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution for preventing corruption, yet there are certain mechanisms and elements in democratic and democratizing countries that support anti-corruption compared to authoritarian establishments which tend to exercise excessive executive power, limited political pluralism, media control, human rights violations and military reinforcement of the regime. These common institutional characteristics make corruption risks higher in authoritarian systems or autocracies. 

Having holistic governance draws in the wider community to support state’s national anti-corruption efforts. In the same vein, democratic obstructions can prevent poorer, marginalised or less powerful communities from securing accountability. Consequently, a less accountable state increases the prospect of corruption and other abuses of who wields the power. 

Capacity building, education, and training

Under holistic governance, the private sector, trade unions, and civil society organizations (CSO) have to act as watchdogs and be sensitized on their role in reducing corruption. The participation of CSOs in governance allows that authority and power are shared in enacting policies and decisions affecting society’s public life, aspirations, and interests. It espouses the principles of inclusiveness and democratization in governance, and hence the empowerment of people organized outside of state’s apparatus.

Civil servants in holistic governance are to be subjected to intense and heightened training and human resource development to improve their services to the public in a more transparent and accountable manner. As articulated by Denhardt and Denhardt in their New Public Service (2003), the public sector has to possess the following qualities (Denhardt and Denhardt 2003, p. 189): (a) commitment toward organizational values; (b) dedication to serve the public; (c) staunchness to empowerment and leadership sharing; and (d) allegiance to pragmatic incrementalism. An active civil service therefore needs a new system of human resources management that recruits and selects civil servant possessing qualities like moral sense, firm commitment, and initiative taking.

Civil servants are to be trained not only in identifying which target to meet but also how to go about meeting them through detailed prescription of professional practice, i.e., how public services are delivered using allocated resources, and a mindset that commits oneself to public service. Note that the failure of the bureaucracy to carry out its tasks and respond to urgent challenges wear away the political acceptability of government. 

Complementing training and capacity-building programmes on corruption mitigation, is to adopt alternative strategies that challenge the “incentives” and “norms” of a corrupt system. This is to empower executive politicians and members of the legislatures, apart from bureaucrats and civil servants, to fight corruption in order to build up the equity and efficiency of public service delivery institutions, use their leadership positions within social networks to bolster normative constraints against the most pernicious forms of corruption, and assemble a coalition of public servants to oppose effectively systemic types of corruption. Involving the totality of public servants and political leaders in curbing and resolving corruption is one of the key characteristics of holistic governance.

Conclusion

The issue of good governance persists to be a vital question in the Philippines. The state’s inability to pursue the policy and practice of inclusiveness in governance through deep and expansive engagement with civil society, and accomplish public functions in a transparent and accountable manner will endure to obstruct its political development unless serious and consistent structural changes are established in government’s institutions. As mentioned earlier in this paper, it has been regrettable that the newly elected President, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. overlooked corruption as one of the key issues in national development and nation-building in his July 2022 State of the Nation Address.

In as much as corruption is bad governance, challenging it among others, include adequate and credible flow of information, strong civil society, effective and transparent financial management systems, and procurement regulations whose processes are fair and open. The state’s inability to pursue the policy and practice of inclusiveness in governance through deep and expansive engagement with civil society, and accomplish public functions in a transparent and accountable manner will endure to obstruct good public management. 

Fighting corruption requires a long term and holistic approach and strategy. As the paper suggests, the adoption of holistic governance in the country has the high probability of mitigating individual and systemic corruption. The inherent features of holistic governance, as conceptualized by Perri 6 in 1997 — transparent and accountable transactions, democratic institutions, entrenched values of good governance among civil servants – are essentially key elements in confronting corruption.

Apart from the integrative function of holistic governance, its concern in transforming civil servants to embody the qualities and values of a bureaucrat to one which include: integrity, accountability, service, equity, innovation, teamwork, excellence, honesty, commitment, quality, openness, communication, recognition, trust, effectiveness, and leadership, are antidotes of corruption. Under holistic governance, an improved breed of civil servants is developed. They are subjected to rigid performance audit, inspection, and scrutiny. A new civil service development plan is designed to shape a better mindset of civil servants who have a firm commitment to public service, uprightness, and reliability. 

Perceptively, if holistic governance is to be realized, politicians, policy-makers, and bureaucrats have to learn to participate actively in the process of integration, give up their political and organizational interests, provide and mobilize more resources to appropriate departments, agencies, and offices, and fulfil the national mandate to build a transparent, democratic, efficient and effective bureaucracy, manned by civil servants imbued with a deep sense of nationalism and public service, and less, if not least, corrupt government comparable to some Scandinavian countries like Denmark, Finland, and Sweden, and the Asian city-state, Singapore. 

Only when this quest is achieved can reformers, campaigners, and champions of good and effective governance talk seriously of a government that works and a nation that is built on solid rocks.

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Endnotes:

  1. https://www.eurasiareview.com/17062022-an-unsought-counsel-on-governance-to-incoming-philippine-administration-analysis/
  2.  See also Buendia, R.G. (2022). “Holistic Governance: the task ahead.” ADRi Occasional Paper 15.5 May 2022. Stratbase, Alberto Del Rosario Institute (ADRi), Philippines for expanded discussion.
  3.  The Freedom of Information (FOI) Program or Executive Order No. 2 was signed by former President Rodrigo Duterte on 23 July 2016. It requires all executive departments, agencies, bureaus, and offices to disclose public records, contracts, transactions, and any information requested by a member of the public, except for matters affecting national security and other information that falls under the inventory of exceptions issued by then Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea.

Rizal G. Buendia

Rizal G. Buendia, Independent political analyst in Southeast Asian governance based in England and Wales, UK. Philippine Country Expert of the Global V-Dem Institute, University of Gothenburg, Sweden. Former Teaching Fellow at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, UK and former Associate Professor and Chair, Political Science Department, De La Salle University-Manila, Philippines.

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