Just recently, President Rodrigo Duterte vowed to the Filipino people that all the funds spent for the government’s COVID-19 response would be accounted for. He acknowledged the people’s need to know how each government agency utilized their respective budgets, where these were directed to, or who were the beneficiaries of the public services.
For the past few months, there have been a sudden influx of resources intended for COVID-19 response. With huge amounts of money being claimed to be appropriated to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, the public has the right to know if the funds were used as intended.
People holding public office are accountable for their use of public funds. There must be a high degree of transparency in the application of the government’s various stimulus measures, most especially in the 2021 national budget which is the most vital economic policy instrument, as it presents the government’s priorities regarding policies within a particular timeframe.
Transparency is more crucial now than ever, as the government has been borrowing huge sums of money which the public will eventually pay for in the form of higher taxes in the years to come. The country’s total debt breached Php 9 trillion as of June 2020, and this is expected to further increase as the government continues to borrow.
The problem is that huge amounts of money attract the attention of corrupt government officials, which happens all the time. Indeed, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated opportunities for corrupt practices to be carried out, as the emergency powers granted to the President under Bayanihan I expedited government procedures; therefore leaving room for possible corruption.
However, this crisis can likewise be an opportunity to introduce anti-corruption initiatives. The wedge that deters the greed is the system of transparency in place, if there is one.
Thus, it is imperative to strengthen the digital infrastructure which will not only pave the way for more transparency in government, but will also be the key to the country’s overall competitiveness. With the digitization and automation of the distribution of funds to intended beneficiaries, the intervention of third parties will be prevented, thereby reducing corruption. Information and communications technologies have contributed immensely to making government information more accessible and organized. This helps minimize the wasteful use of public resources and holds government officials accountable for their utilization of public resources.
However, transparency is not just about making information widely available. It is imperative that the integrity of the data is ensured. Due to the urgency and strategic value of an extensive and robust digital infrastructure to national development and good governance, it should be on top of the government’s “Build, Build, Build” priorities.
The best strategy to build the country’s digital infrastructure is to encourage the private sector to invest and operate. But then again, attracting big investments is only possible if the government has created a conducive environment where infusion of big capital resources is a viable proposition. The government must constantly demonstrate its worthiness of the people’s trust and confidence, not with threats to inculcate fear, but with inspiring leadership and clear direction.
We deserve no less.
Prof. Dindo Manhit
CEO and Managing Director, Stratbase Group