A few days ago, a news story rocked the regime of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo so abruptly, like a solid punch to the jaw, that GMA’s spokespersons have until now merely reeled and mumbled, and have not said anything intelligible on the issue.
The story is simple enough, and all the more jarring: the World Bank had deferred a whooping $232-million loan to the Philippines, as aid to Phase 2 of the National Roads Improvement and Management Program (NRIMP), due to “strong signs of collusion and excessive pricing” in two major contracts for NRIMP-1 that were rejected in the past several years. The WB said discussions on the NRIMP-2 loan will only continue once its own internal investigation is concluded.
The responses of GMA’s officials are obviously for damage-control purposes only. All these “We are looking into the allegations” catch phrases, and pinning the blame elsewhere, are meant only to gloss over the obvious. They are not meant to really dig up and root out the major culprits and social causes of extensive graft and corruption, even only in the case of public infrastructure projects.
The WB action is already significant, if only as further confirmation of the incredible magnitude of corruption at the highest levels of government.
On the other hand, we are worried that the international lending agency is not really so interested in rooting out graft and corruption up to the highest levels of the government. After all, the WB had been doing good business with a series of administrations notorious for corruption, from Marcos all the way down to GMA. It had enough clout to probe and end the massive diarrhea of public funds, and should have done so decades ago if it was really serious.
For all we know, a big factor that triggered the WB action is that China-based firms have been recently elbowing into the traditional niches of U.S., European, and Japanese or Korean infrastructure contractors. Once the China firms are edged out after the probe, like in the ZTE NBN deal, we fear that everything will go on as before. Business as usual, as they say in the trade.
Definitely, the country needs a lot more than these occasional official probes and preventive measures by international aid agencies, to finally uproot graft and corruption.
What we need, in fact, is a comprehensive package of economic and political reforms. What we need is a total revamp of the present social system that has rewarded abusive and corrupt officials with more terms in office, more opportunities for plunder, and if they are ever caught, more chances to escape conviction. And if they are ever convicted, like Erap, more chances for presidential pardon.
To stop corruption once and for all, what we need is not merely a slap on the hand by the likes of the World Bank. What we need is a sustained process of people’s empowerment and exercise in vigilance, to ensure that every positive policy, administrative or court action against graft and corruption is not dissipated, but concentrated into a critical mass, into comprehensive social reforms.
What we need is a knockout blow against the rotten centuries-old structures of graft and corruption. #