Experts asked the government to prioritize the digital transformation of the bureaucracy to stop corruption that remains unabated.
At a recent virtual forum hosted by Stratbase ADR Institute, anti-corruption advocates discussed the risks and made recommendations to ensure funds being spent for the government’s response to the pandemic will not fall prey to corruption.
“COVID-19 (new coronavirus disease 2019) has given governments the opportunity to skip accountability measures and democratic procedures under the guise of emergency powers,” said Dindo Manhit, president of Stratbase ADR Institute.
Manhit cited need for a responsive governance founded on the principles of transparency and accountability to surmount the economic and health challenges.
“Now that the value of technology as a productivity tool for communication, collaboration, and efficiency has been proven, our government must now harness digital technologies as a weapon against corruption. Fast development of our digital infrastructure now becomes a critical element of our recovery strategy,” said Manhit.
Sarah Steingrüber, affiliate expert on corruption in the health sector of U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Center and global health lead on curbing corruption at TI School on Integrity, said: “In the health sector, undue influence can lead to misinformation or corruption of information if you will, which can break down a health system’s ability to function and have serious implications.”
“COVID-19 is a corruption accelerator and has really shown the major cracks in the system, but it is an anti-corruption opportunity if we get it right, if we’re willing to work,” Steingrüber said.
Dr. Francisco Magno, trustee and program convenor of Stratbase ADR Institute and senior fellow at De La Salle Institute of Governance said “the lack of digital tools is a real constraint for the government to address the distribution of relief services. So, the thing about digitizing is that you really need data.”
“We should definitely go digital, and we need to invest in Internet connectivity, all the digital equipment needed. Digital technology is important, plus the database that is needed,” Magno said.
Heidi Mendoza of Ateneo School of Government and a former commissioner of the Commission on Audit noted the case of the Philippine Health Insurance Corp.
She said that when the Commission on Audit was allowed to view the IT system of PhilHealth, they were given the database of claimants from 2011 to 2015. When they compared the database with the information available in the Philippine Statistics Office, the auditors discovered that a lot of the claimants were already dead, with at least 300 hospitals still claiming reimbursements for patients who are already dead.
“In this particular example, we’re seeing that it’s not actually the complication of the IT system. It’s the integrity of the data and the approach of, or what I refer to as the data-mining technique,” Mendoza said.
The proposed national government budget of P4.506 trillion for 2021 focuses government spending on improving healthcare systems, ensuring food security and increasing investments in public and digital infrastructure, among others.