Editorial: Isolating kleptocrats

Except for a select sector of serious advocates, corruption in this country seems rather abstract as far as public imagination is concerned. Even the most incendiary exposés of graft in time easily fizzles into small talk among citizens, never amounting to serious, enduring crusades. So don’t wonder why in this pandemic, even if indications of irregularities scream at the faces of people, officials seem unfazed, confident even. Accountability had long left this side of the world.

This is what makes the US State Department’s International Anti-Corruption Champion Award an important symbolic move initiated by the administration of US President Joe Biden. It is meant to pan the

spotlight on individual crusaders against corruption. The first batch of recognized champions includes public officials, civil society workers, journalists and corporate leaders.

The award quickly gets close to home when among the 12 recipients are our very own Pasig Mayor Vico Sotto, who intermittently stole public attention away from everything else during this pandemic for a performance that simply stood out. The award, however, also counts the young mayor’s earlier achievements, especially that one legislation during his stint as city councilor when he instituted a policy that allowed the citizens of Pasig “to request documents without having to provide justification.” Sotto’s governance style had been anchored on a consciousness effort at accountability.

“He pledged to avoid any kickbacks in the awarding of city contracts, established a 24/7 public information and complaints hotline, formally involved civil society organizations in the city’s budgeting and policy making, and mandated that the value of all city government contracts be reduced by at least 10 percent—a measure intended to reduce bribery in the contract awarding process,” the US State Department’s summary of Sotto’s portfolio goes.

There is much to be learned from the profiles and achievements of the award recipients. Their efforts are made more crucial as we saw in this health crisis how corrupt governments had rendered their populations vulnerable with poor public health capacities. If there is to be a reset, or “new normal” as we’d like to call it, let it cover the aspects of accountability and transparency as non-negotiable norms in governance.

Civil society groups must closely engage in graft watch efforts, educating the grassroots on how to help curb corruption in their areas. Local legislators must need to institutionalize new mechanisms to ensure transparency in public spending. The public must pressure officials by including this as a crucial campaign issue in the 2022 elections.

Let us start isolating kleptocrats and corrupt government officials.