Roy Tang

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The Costs of Corruption

A quick follow-up to something I mentioned in yesterday’s post:

It is a cultural problem too. Even we the citizens have little respect for rules and laws and try to skip around them when we can. This is why we have fixers, and connections, and patronage. We trade on favors to get us out of trouble.

I’m not sure if needed to be said, but I wasn’t saying that literally every single person participates in fixing and patronage to get around the rules. Most probably only a minority ever do so. The majority try to just keep their heads down and live their lives, and in doing so, they tolerate those who do participate in such corruption of the rules. This is what I meant, that we as a culture, are too tolerant of such activities, even sometimes praising those who manage to circumvent rules or laws as “madiskarte”.

Tangential story time: Some time ago, I was visiting with people in another area, and the conversation turned to one of the people present who had run for public office (councilor) some years ago, and he was asked why he didn’t win. His answer: “Wala e, mas malakas maglagay yung kalaban." (The opponent was better at bribing voters.) The response elicited laughter from those around. Whether the response was based on fact or merely a speculative joke, the way it is discussed so casually and even among people they barely knew (me) is reflective of how we have normalized corruption in our society. There is no shame associated with it, it is talked about openly as a fact of life.

It’s easy to say, “I don’t want to make a scene, I’ll just keep quiet and live my life, and I’ll be a good citizen and I won’t participate in corruption myself,” but even if you do so, systemic corruption still affects you. Even if you’re an informal worker who doesn’t pay taxes; the cost of corruption isn’t only in lost taxes, it’s in lost public services and opportunities lost to connections and patronage. Normalized corruption also means more rules need to be introduced to rein it in, and more rules means more people want to try to break those rules, leading to some kind of vicious cycle. The increased red tape brought about by corruption even feeds the beast and inconveniences the rest of us who just want to be good citizens.

Given our current leadership, I had been thinking recently about what an actual good administration would look like. In my view, the point of presidency shouldn’t just be to execute the laws, but to provide an example of leadership for the people, in that he/she inspires the people to be better. I don’t yet know how it can be done, but for any one president to be able to turn this country around, he needs to be able to inspire the citizenry to not just be good citizens, but to be better than that. A great president will need to understand that the success of his term doesn’t depend solely on him and his appointees, but rather on each citizen taking a stand against the normalized corruption in our culture.

This might be a bit difficult for a president limited to a six year term, certainly a lot of political will is needed. And not the kind that you squander on political favors. A tall order, but we as a country should be better for the trying. Again, maybe someday.

Posted by under post at #philippines #current events
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