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Technology assisted bribery

/ 03:02 AM December 01, 2014

Believe it or not.

This might as well be the head of the news report last week that, citing a 2013 survey commissioned by the Office of the Ombudsman, fewer Filipino families now give bribes to government employees.

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According to the survey, the staff of government agencies involved in processing registry documents and licenses were more likely to solicit “grease money” compared to those engaged in other services.

Most bribes were solicited by government officials rather than initiated by the giver or person who transacts business with the government office concerned.

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The survey showed, among others, that the families in the D and E social levels are prone to offering bribes to be able to get basic social services from the government.

The supposed drop in bribery cases has been attributed to the rise in the public’s consciousness of the pervasive effects of corruption on our poor countrymen and to our society, in general.

Ironically, rather than draw favorable reaction, the survey results elicited critical and derisive comments from the social media.

The offices that got the most flak as graft-ridden are the Land Transportation Office and local government licensing offices, two front-line agencies that the majority of our people often deal with.

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Although the survey results were positive, and had the Civil Service Commission crowing about them, it is doubtful if entrepreneurs and businessmen who regularly do business with the government will give credence to the findings.

The reality on the ground is the bureaucracy has made compliance with government rules and regulations difficult, which is either done on purpose or by force of habit, that people are compelled to look for shortcuts or connections to get things moving.

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Sad, but true, modern technology has made it easier for corrupt government employees to engage in their nefarious activities with the least risk of exposure and, even if caught, conviction.

Demanding grease money upfront is fraught with danger. There is no gainsaying the prospective victim may seek police assistance and cooperate in a sting or entrapment operation.

The modus operandi nowadays is for the corrupt employee before whom, say, a “moneymaking” application is pending to relay that matter to a third party, often a retired or former colleague, who will act as “fixer.”

Before this, the employee will sit on the application and come up with all kinds of excuses to delay its processing or make piecemeal requests for additional documents to compel the applicant to repeatedly trek to the office.

Then, on the pretext of facilitating communication, the applicant will be asked to leave his cell phone number with the employee.

Influence

Later, the applicant will receive a text message from the fixer informing him that he has good connections in the government office he can tap to facilitate action on his application.

To show proof of his influence, the fixer will ask the applicant to meet up in the office and, in full view of the latter, will animatedly converse or banter with his former colleagues.

Once they agree on the bribery terms, the application will be quickly approved, or calendared for deliberation or approval by a higher authority.

If the application has to go through several channels within the office, the bribe money is paid in instalments; failure to pay any amortization within the agreed period would stall its processing or, worse, result in its disapproval.

The practice of giving the bribe in cash is already passé. The fear of entrapment and the accompanying adverse publicity makes this kind of payoff too risky.

The new SOP is the bribe is deposited in a bank account designated by the fixer, the details of which are sent through text message.

Although text messages create a paper trail about the deposit, getting more information about the bank account and its holder that would prove the bribery is not easy.

Without a court order or formal instructions from the Anti-Money Laundering Council, no bank will willingly disclose the identity of its depositors or their banking transactions.

Anonymity

Except probably for one or two personal meetings, all transactions are conducted through the cell phone between the applicant and the fixer.

For the protection of the corrupt employee, neither his name nor his cell phone number is mentioned in the exchange of text messages. So in case the fixer gets caught, the employee can profess innocence about the incident and go scot-free.

And even if the text messages indicate their sources, linking the sender to the cell phone number is next to impossible because cell phone numbers are not registered and SIM cards in pre-paid accounts are easy to secure and dispose of.

In the face of these odds, not to mention the slow pace of justice in our country, complaining about bribery in government offices is practically an exercise in futility.

Worse, the person who may have the guts to expose bribery attempts could find himself “blacklisted” in the office concerned. His future transactions, no matter how valid, will go through the wringer or closely scrutinized for causes that would justify their disapproval.

If you happen to be a businessman whose operations are supervised by that office, you might as well close shop because corrupt government employees have elephant memories.

There is an ocean of a difference between what surveys on bribery show and what really happens in some government offices. For now, there is little reason to believe the survey findings are credible.

For comments, please send your e-mail to “[email protected]

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