Friday, November 26, 2010

Corruption Perceptions

by Dr. Prospero E. de Vera

Transparency International (TI) has been releasing its yearly Corruption Perception Index as a tool to measure the degree to which public sector corruption is perceived in countries all over the world.

Many Filipinos give fleeting attention to this yearly report because they have been so desensitized to corruption and because our local TI-Philippines has not made a habit of conducting a press conference to explain the details of the annual assessment. National authorities, particularly during the Arroyo administration, regularly dismissed these reports as a biased “perception” of foreigners and the political opposition who are out to “embarrass the President”.

But what exactly is the Corruption Perception Index (CPI)? And how are we faring in this assessment?

Corruption “perception” is important because corruption is an illegal activity that is hidden, will not be admitted, and very difficult to measure. Analyzing and measuring the number of investigations launched, number of public officials prosecuted, and scandals that hit a government are good indicators of the extent of corruption in a country. But while these activities offer “non-perception” data, they are often the product of the efficiency of the judicial system, freedom of the press, or activism of civil society organizations and do not picture the full extent of corruption in a country.

The CPI, which is calculated using data from 13 sources by 10 independent institutions, is thus a useful tool to determine whether there has been a change in the perceived level of corruption in a country on a year-to-year basis.

Using a scale from 10 (very clean) to 0 (highly corrupt), Transparency International’s 2010 CPI has some very interesting stories to tell. Denmark, New Zealand and Singapore are tied at the top of the list with a score of 9.3, followed by Sweden and Finland at 9.2. Some of our neighbors that we know practice good governance also fare well – Australia (8.7) at #8, Hongkong (8.4) at #13, Japan (7.8) at #17, South Korea (5.4) at #39, and Thailand (3.5) at #78.

Not surprisingly, the Philippines is languishing near the bottom of the global rankings. With a CPI of 2.4, we rank 134th among the 178 countries surveyed. What is surprising is that we are now in the same league as Togo, Azerbaijan, Nigeria, Honduras, Bangladesh, and the Mugabe- forsaken country of Zimbabwe.

Now here is a really depressing fact. While many Filipinos routinely looked down and considered Indonesia as our most graft-ridden neighbor, it is now ranked way above us at number 110 with a CPI of 2.8.

And what do Mongolia, Sri Lanka, Tonga, Zambia, Benin, Guyana, Solomon Islands, El Salvador, Samoa, Tunisia, Trinidad and Tobago, Gabon, and Burkina Faso have in common? Aside from being poor developing countries in Africa, Latin America, and Asia, they are all ranked higher than the Philippines.

Clearly, poor economic conditions and less developed political systems do not hinder anti-corruption efforts. It is time that we learn from these “less developed” countries.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Conditional Cash Transfers and Corruption

by Dr. Prospero E. de Vera

Ten years ago, world leaders in New York signed the Millennium Development Goals and promised to build a more prosperous, just and peaceful world.

The promise has clearly not been achieved. The review of the MDG Country Reports, including those of the Philippines, has revealed some successes, and also many problems. As a result, an MDG Acceleration Framework, defined by the UN as a “ systematic way to identifying bottlenecks and possible high impact solutions, leading to a concrete plan of action for government” has now been developed to accelerate the realization of specific MDG Goals.

Two social protection programs – social security and social assistance – are now considered as the most critical interventions that can accelerate the achievement of the MDGs by 2015. Social assistance, through the conditional cash transfers (CCT), has thus become vogue in many developing countries eager to placate their suffering poor and at the same time claim MDG success.

It is in this context that I listened intently to the presentations of UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty Magdalena Sepulveda and Christian Gruenber of the International Council on Human Rights Policy in the panel “Setting Anti-Corruption Agenda for MDGs: Challenges and Opportunities” in the on-going 14th International Anti-Corruption Conference in Bangkok, Thailand.

Since evaluation of CCT programs in developing countries are either few or none, I was particularly interested in finding out whether former President Arroyo’s much maligned CCT measured up to international standards, and whether President Aquino’s dramatic expansion of CCT beneficiaries from 1M to 2.5M households can actually work.

Sepulveda echoed many of the arguments being used by CCT supporters in the Philippines. That giving cash to parents for keeping their children in school and improving their own health is an effective intervention to achieve universal primary education (MDG Goal 2), reduce child mortality (MDG Goal 4), and improve maternal mortality (MDG Goal 5).

She also agreed with the critics of the program that poorly designed and implemented CCT programs open vast opportunities for corruption, and fighting corruption must go hand-in-hand with CCT and MDG interventions.

Sepulveda also pointed out that CCT’s work only when the education and health infrastructure are available in poor communities. Otherwise, the “conditions” of the cash transfer can’t be met and become an added punishment for poor people.

Third, CCTs work best if access to information and transparency are imbedded in the program. Information must be available and accessible - on who will be implementing the program at the national and local levels, who are the beneficiaries, the criteria for their selection – not only to policymakers and the general public but to local communities.

Information access is important, and difficult, because the poor (particularly marginalized groups like indigenous peoples) often have no access to information. The information has to be adapted to their needs, must be in a language that they understand, and must be gender-aware.

Fourth, a clear complaint mechanism must be established at all levels to address questions of the “included” and “excluded” poor households and to report the behaviour of authorities. Finally, Sepulveda asserted that implementation and monitoring systems must ensure the participation of the beneficiaries.

Gruenber adds that since human rights and human development are the main pillars of the UN Millennium Declaration, a monitoring system where women and the youth are involved in real time is required. This monitoring system, adds Gruenber, should be jointly owned by government and the communities and be technology based so complaints can be received and acted upon in real time.

Were these necessary requirements present in the Arroyo CCT program? I don’t think so. Are these requirements for program success present in President Aquino’s billion-peso CCT program? And if not, can these be put in place in time to improve implementation?

Maybe the CCT supporters can take a cure from Sepulveda who warned that the fixation of many developing countries to copy and expand their CCT programs simply because others are doing must be stopped at all cost.

Or maybe, they should just go slower and do a serious evaluation of the program first before promising the poor that we can bring them out of poverty through CCT.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Kleptomaniacs and Corrupt Practices

by Dr. Prospero E. de Vera

One of the good things about attending international conferences is that there are always new statistics to remember, new approaches presented to solve old problems, new materials and publications to bring back home, and new stories from other countries that really stick to your mind.

Global Witness (, a London-based advocacy group that carries out investigations in countries devastated by conflict, corruption and poverty certainly takes the cake as far as anti-corruption investigative reporting is concerned. Robert Palmer head of Global Witness’ Kleptocracy Campaign narrated some of their successful and unsuccessful campaigns to bring African kleptocrats to justice in the 14th International Anti-Corruption Conference (IACC) held in Bangkok recently.

The most shocking narrative involved the case of Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, or TNO for short, son of Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang who was accused in the report of having amassed wealth far beyond his salary as a public servant and have gone on to spectacular buying sprees in several continents.

In a publication entitled The Secret Life of a Shopaholic: How an African Dictator’s Playboy Son Went on a Multi-Million Dollar Shopping Spree in the US, TNO allegedly bought a $35M property in the reclusive Serra Retreat overlooking the Malibu Beach in California where he has Mel Gibson and Britney Spears as neighbours. Palmer notes that at his salary of $4,000-5,000 a month as Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment, TNO would have taken between 580 to 730 years to save enough for this property.

Global Witness also obtained copies of cheques paid out of TNO’s account in Barclays Bank and BNP in Paris to buy, among other things: a Gulf Stream jet ($33 million), three Bugatti Veyron’s (1 for Paris, 1 for California, and a deposit for the 3rd car) at $1.3M each, two Rolls Royce Phantom’s ($350,000 each), four Ferraris ($240,000 each) a Bentley Arnage ($240,000), a 200 foot yacht, and speedboats. His father, President Obiang, was said to have paid $2.6M for a mansion in Maryland suburbs that has 10 bathrooms, seven fireplaces, and an indoor pool in 1979 and another house in the same area for $1.15M the next year.

Equatorial Guinea, fuelled by large oil and gas revenues, is a country that enjoys a per capita income of $37,200, higher than the Philippines and one of the highest in the world. Yet 77% of its population live in poverty, 35% die before age of 40, and 57% lack access to drinking water. A US State Department report in 2009 also documented unlawful killings by security forces, government sanctioned kidnappings, systematic torture of prisoners, arbitrary arrests, government corruption, and restrictions of political and civil rights in the country.

If you are shocked by this data, you will be more shocked to know that as late as 2006 President Obiang went to the US and met Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice who called him a “good friend of the US”. And until today, his son TNO walks a free man and will likely succeed him as Equatorial Guinea President soon.

It seems that in some countries, it pays to be corrupt!


This is also posted at

A Global Anti-Corruption Initiative

Dr. Prospero E. De Vera

Anti-corruption and good governance have definitely become global mantras for politicians, civil society organizations, multilateral agencies, and the private sector.

Under the theme Restoring Trust: Global Action for Transparency, the 14th International Anti-Corruption Conference that is now on-going in Bangkok has brought together some 1300 delegates from 135 countries to tackle what Thai Prime Minister Abhisit calls a “global menace that must be fought at all fronts”.

As a member of the delegation from the Philippines that includes Dr. Bernd-Markus Liss of the German Cooperation Agency, DENR ASec Danny Nicer, NICP Director Leilene Gallardo, ELAC Deputy Director Gerthie Anda, and Indigenous Peoples leader Venancio Cueno, I was amazed by the continuing expansion of the anti-corruption and good governance debate into areas that have rarely been discussed in the Philippines – corruption, peace and security; fuelling transparency and accountability in the natural resources and energy markets; climate governance; global action for an accountable corporate world; and reaching the MDG’s.

Perhaps, as IACC Chair Justice Barry O’Keefe asserted in his opening speech, this is part of the phenomenon where many countries over the course of the last two decades have “moved from a paradigm of denial that corruption was widespread within their borders to an acceptance that corruption affects all of us, rich and poor, developed and underdeveloped countries, north and south alike.”

Or maybe it’s because many political leaders, like Thai Prime Minister Abhisit, are now putting a face and staking their political future on an anti-corruption agenda.

Buoyed by a newly-released Bangkok University Research Centre opinion poll that ranked him as the most trustworthy Thai politician, Abhisit delivered a well applauded anti-corruption speech to open the conference. Materials on Thailand’s anti-corruption programs also flooded the conference venue. Abhisit’s fighting words were uttered despite surveys showing that 72.3% of Thais believe that the corruption problem in the country will not change, while only 15.5% think it will improve despite Thailand’s hosting the 14th IACC.

Surprisingly, while the Philippines is one of the 149 signatories to the UN Convention Against Corruption and President Aquino was swept to power on an anti-corruption platform, there was no case study, presentation, or even a printed report on the Philippines anti-corruption initiatives in any of the four plenary sessions and more than forty interactive sessions. There was also no high level official, not even someone from the much-hyped Truth Commission, attending the IACC.

Which made we wonder - what is keeping the Aquino administration from rolling-out a similar anti-corruption framework to show the rest of the world that he is ready to stake his leadership in the global anti-corruption movement? Or even better, to at least give a roadmap for Filipinos who want to walk the Daang Matuwid?


This note appears as a column on Political Mirror at

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Game Changers for the May 2010 Elections

Dr. Prospero E. de Vera

I appeared on Tina Monzon Palma's award winning public affairs show Talk Back last night on the issue - Will Villar be Able to Catch Up? as Manny Villar's Issues Adviser. I answered the question by saying that there are three "game changers" that will determine the outcome of the May 2010 elections. First, the effect of the shift from manual to automation on voter turn out; Second,the endorsement of the Iglesia ni Kristo and the El Shaddai ; and Third, the strength of command votes at the local level by politician clans, traditional politicians, and organized groups.

My premise was simple. Current surveys (Pulse Asia and SWS) say that the Noynoy Aquino leads the presidential race by around 13%-19% and some analysts have started declaring a "run away" and "landslide" victory for him. My position is that surveys (assuming one accepts SWS and Pulse) are based on a 100% voter turnout through their sampling system. Using 50M registered voters as a base and assuming that there is a 100% voter turnout, then a 15% lead (computer as 7.5M votes) really looks formidable and looks like a landslide.

But what will be the voter turnout on May 10? Many analysts use 80% turnout as a base because this was the turnout in previous presidential elections. Using this figure, a 15% lead (15% of 40M votes = 6M votes) still looks formidable. The problem with these analysts is that they are plucking figures from thin air. Nobody knows how the sift from manual to automation will affect voter turnout because no country in the world has tried to do it in this magnitude and pace. Will it be 80%? 70%? 60%? or even 50%? My thesis is that it will go down dramatically because of long lines, automation fright, poor voter education, spoiled ballots, and other imponderables.

If voter turn out goes down to 50% (25 million end up voting) , then a 15% lead in the surveys will only be worth around 3.75 million votes. Suddenly the gap doesnt look impossible.

And I have not included the 9%-10% undecided votes in the equation.

Now factor in the Iglesia ni Cristo and El Shaddai endorsement which is estimated to be around 2-4 million votes and we have a new ballgame.

The third and final game changer is the ground forces. The key questions are: 1) How long will Gibo Teodoro be able to hold on to the still formidable LAKAS-KAMPI machinery given the paucity of funds and the obvious deals that many local candidates have entered into with either the NP or LP? and 2) Who are the organized groups such as the Makabayan and bigger party list groups backing?

The interplay of these three game changers is such that a low voter turnout strengthens the hand of the INK and El Shaddai and the organized groups (political clans, traditional politicians, the MAKABAYAN, and other party list groups). We will know the INK and El Shaddai endorsements in the coming days. But voter turnout and command votes come into the equation only on election day. So who will win on May 10, 2010?