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Curbing smuggling, corruption during elections

Smuggling and corruption increase during elections but there are two proven mechanisms that can do the opposite. They should be implemented immediately so they will be firmly in place when election period starts. I have personally seen the success of both mechanisms, and I have also seen them dismantled precisely because of their success.

Smuggling

A finance secretary once told me it was difficult to measure smuggling. So I informed him of an easy way, which subsequent officials now use to measure smuggling. From the United Nations international trade statistics database (comtrade.un.org), we can find out the amount a country exports to the Philippines, as well as what the Philippine Bureau of Customs (BOC) reports. The difference, with minor adjustments, is smuggling.

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This is either outright or technical smuggling (undervaluation, misclassification and misdeclaration). For example, if a country reports exporting to the Philippines $1 billion worth of goods, but we report receiving only $800 million, the difference of $200 million is largely due to smuggling.

In 2005, a Cabinet Oversight Committee Against Smuggling (Cocas) was formed. It was composed of the chair (the Interior and Local Government secretary) and the heads of Trade and Industry, Agriculture, Finance and Justice departments. There were two private sector representatives: Jesus Aranza of the Federation of Philippine Industries representing industry, and myself of Alyansa Agrikultura representing agriculture.

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Every two weeks, the BOC would report to this committee their antismuggling activities, with a summary given to the President. The results were impressive: smuggling decreased by 25 percent. Whereas before there was no oversight body closely monitoring BOC activities, now there was biweekly periodic reporting, and action taken. Despite its success, the Cocas was abolished. It was surmised that since “big fish” were caught, it had displeased powerful individuals.

Several years later, under the public-private National Competitiveness Council reporting to the President, a similar interagency oversight body was formed. But it was at a much lower level. Nevertheless, after the monthly meetings were moved to the Office of the Customs Commissioner where trade information was readily accessible, the smuggling rate decreased by 32 percent.

However, when a new commissioner started in 2016, the committee was abolished. A few weeks later, a memorandum of agreement was signed by Customs Deputy Commissioner Arturo Lachica, and myself as an Alyansa Agrikultura leader. This was to provide access to information previously given so the smuggling sources could be identified. A few days later, on Nov. 12, 2016, Lachica was killed in an ambush.

Without a public-private interagency body overseeing the BOC, the result will be limited transparency, inadequate accountability and more smuggling.

Corruption

The Department of Agriculture (DA) became notorious for corruption with incidents ranging from fertilizer and pork scams to the alleged Napoles diversion of billions of funds using innocent farmers as the reason. Alyansa Agrikultura, a private sector member of the legislated public-private Philippine Council of Agriculture and Fisheries (PCAF), recommended the creation of a budget committee. This was to not only study the DA budget but also monitor its proper use. The DA allocated funds for public-private teams to visit the provinces to see how the DA funds were being spent.

At the start, the provincial PCAF chapters were not given the DA budgets allocated to their areas. They could therefore not monitor budget use. When finally given, many PCAF provincial and municipal chapters did excellent monitoring. Corruption cases were identified and submitted for review and punishment. Where monitoring was done, corruption was at a minimum.

Unfortunately, there was hardly any systematic review and punishment done by the head office under the previous administration. This kind of monitoring and the provincial visits by the PCAF teams were stopped completely. Again, it was because it was revealing “inconvenient truths.”

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Political will

What we need now is the political will to implement these two proven mechanisms to decrease smuggling and corruption, especially during the election period. What we see, instead, is the will to do the opposite, to steal from the people to fund the campaigns of unscrupulous politicians.

It is time we implement proven successful mechanisms such as the two identified above. Otherwise, the nation our forefathers fought and died for will become just a den of thieves. INQ

The author is Agriwatch chair, former secretary of presidential programs and projects and former undersecretary of the DA and the DTI. Contact is [email protected]

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TAGS: Business, Corruption, Elections, Smuggling
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