News

The View From the 19th Floor: We Are Not Saints

September 22, 2011 News

Today when we read the newspapers we continually see some very familiar terms. 

Words like "plunder," "ghostprojects," "rigged bidding," "scams," "anomalous projects," and "investigations" appear on a daily basis and are attached to the name of a government official, business executive, government agency, or a company.  These are easy-to-catch terms and immediately you know there is something unethical about these activities.

However, there are also sugar-coated terms that are smoother and typically accepted in the business world such as "facilitation fee," "express fee," "gifts," "bonus," "extras," "benefits" and the like.  These words do not immediately trigger our minds and conscience to react negatively and such words can pass as ethical.

The Integrity Initiative is aimed at sensitizing companies on unethical business practices and establishing a code of conduct, as well as control measures to detect corruption activities within companies.

Angels and demons

By launching the Integrity Initiative project last year, the European Chamber ofCommerce of the Philippines (ECCP) made a firm commitment to cultivate a culture of integrity as a means of improving the competitiveness of the Philippines and the lives of the Filipino people across all segments of society.

We are proud to have held the first Integrity Summit earlier this month.  Our resolve to pursue this project was further strengthened by the fact that all branches of the govemment were represented during the summit with no less than President Aquino, House Speaker Felidano Belmonte and Chief Justice Renato Corona in attendance.

It was also heartwarming to see that there are now dose to 700 companies that have signed the Integrity Pledge, along with 13 Cabinet secretaries.

The Integrity Initiative project has, indeed, come a long way from the very first time we launched this topic on "Compliance or Corruption -- Is there a Choice" during a luncheon meeting with Siemens compliance officers at the Mandarin Hotel in October 2009.

More than 200 partidpants attended that first-time event, which demonstrated the intensifying interest to address corruption as a business concern.

We are happy we now have a "collective action" of companies and government agencies that are committed to systematically seek ways to reform, eradicate corruption, establish corruption control measures and set examples for others to follow.

For all the companies that have signed the Integrity Pledge, one thing is clear, all of us involved in this project are not saints.  We have dealt, seen and experienced corruption at work in its many variations.  As we have always said, it takes two to tango.

But what we are is a group of companies committed to withdraw from the dance floor of corruption.

We are a group that wants to grow a community of ethical companies rather than a minority in a community dominated by players lacking integrity.

We envision integrity to be a competitive advantage for ethical companies that wish to abide by ethical principles in the way they do business.  We foresee that with integrity in place we can create fair market conditions that will bring forth not only an ethical but also a competitive Philippines.

I am looking forward to a time when this group will include all companies that operate in the Philippines.

I also want to see the day when the Integrity Pledge and Unified Code of Conduct are not just pieces of paper signed and posted on office walls.  I want to see them as living and breathing documents that are the standards that all of us adhere to.

To 1,000 and beyond

It has already been mentioned and highlighted in the media that our target is to reach 1,000 signatories to the Integrity Pledge before the year ends.

The ECCP, along with its partners in the project such as the Makati Business Club, American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, Management Association of the Philippines, and the Asian Institute of Management, are confident in reaching that number.

Once we reach 1,000, we will publish the names of the signatories in the newspapers.  We also hope to witness the formal signing of the Integrity Pledge by President Aquino in Malacanang later this year.

With that in mind, I now want to take the project one step further.  Signatories to this project have to go beyond Metro Manila.

The rest of the country has to equal or surpass what has been achieved in Metro Manila.  Doing business in the Philippines does not only mean doing business in Metro Manila.

The ECCP has a good presence in the south, owing to our Cebu office, which covers the Visayas and Mindanao.  We will make sure our office there will have many of our members sign the Integrity Pledge.

We want and will urge our partners in the project to do the same.

In my own capacity, I always bring with me several copies of the Integrity Pledge and the Unified Code of Conduct wherever I go.  I have meetings every day.  I want to explain to people I meet what the Integrity Initiative is all about and at the end of the day I want them to sign the Integrity Pledge.

Recently, on two different occasions together with the Joint Foreign Chamber, former President Fidel V. Ramos and Vice President Jejomar Binay signed the Integrity Pledge.

They are two people who are trusted and well-liked.  Their signing of the Integrity Pledge willgo a long way toward convincing others to follow their lead.  We have dose to 700 signatories, most of them chief executive officers in their companies.  A large number of these companies have business dealings on a daily basis with companies from all over the country.  There is an opportunity for each company to encourage their respective supply chains to sign the Integrity Pledge.

If everyone of us who have signed the pledge will carry copies of the Integrity Pledge and the Unified Code of Conduct and sign at least one corporate executive every day, our task to eradicate corruption would become much easier.

We do not want to look at a company's history before asking them to sign the pledge.

It is just right that we give them the benefit of the doubt and trust that they will follow what is stated in both the Integrity Pledge and the Unified Code of Conduct.

All signatories will, however, be watchful of each other making sure that we are abiding by the code of conduct.  The bottom line is that we, who are already signatories to the Integrity Pledge, should to the best extent possible, only do business with those that have signed the pledge also.  We want to encourage and see a community of ethical companies doing business with each other.

Glass houses

EON Inc. recently came out with its first Philippine Trust Index that showed the level of trust enjoyed by the church, government, businesses, non governmental organizations and the media.

The church scored highest in the "very much trust" with over 80 percent, while government only had 7 percent.  The business sector only mustered 10 percent.

In the government, the most trusted was the Office of the President at 54 percent, while the House had the lowest trust rating at 22 percent.  It was an eye-opening survey that showed us where we should go and who else we should sign to the pledge.

The Integrity Initiative project should also offer the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines to sign the Integrity Pledge.  The Philippines is apredominantly Catholic country and the moral suasions of the church will boost the campaign further.  Signing all the congressmen with their low trust rating, and the media with their high trust rating to the Integrity Pledge would benefit both sides.

Above all, the Integrity Initiative should never be about personalities, companies, groups or associations.

It should be a collective effort of all institutions in the Philippines working together to build an integrity standard that will promote a better tomorrow for our countrymen.

 

Source: Business Mirror; Opinion; 22 September 2011