The dog ate my homework

Orly Mercado

Posted on August 7, 2007

It sounds utterly ridiculous, but when you think hard about it, there is an explanation. When a controversy over a multi-million dollar bilateral deal is reduced to “looking for the Philippine government’s copy of a contract signed with China,” it looks sinister, not funny. The contracts were reportedly “stolen” after being signed.

The knee-jerk reaction to this incident may be to shake one’s head and blame the bureaucracy for incompetence. Experience tells us it is not so. We have laws and regulations about fidelity in the handling of government records. They are largely ignored or considered as mere suggestions. One would wonder, that for all the computerization and management systems we have spent money and time for, we still have shocking examples of incompetence. But to assume incompetence is to be naïve.

Many of us are familiar with these anecdotes: The immigration officer who keeps records of illegal aliens in his car trunk as he makes the rounds of his “inspections.” Then there is the internal revenue officer who practically takes custody of certain corporations’ records as if they were his own. Some government officials keep sensitive documents in their possession even after they are out of service. I have seen first hand, how the billions of pesos allocated for veterans were dissipated by a system purposely kept disorganized and topsy-turvy, in spite our efforts to computerize. Disorganization is a first cousin of corruption.

Going back to the controversial National Broadband Network and Cyber-education project, I am as unfamiliar with the details as most of us are. However, I think I am as uncomfortable, if not disturbed, like most Filipinos are, by the apparent lack of transparency in how this deal was made. I have no quarrel with the intent or possible benefits of this deal. When I was in government, I often heard functionaries repeat the mantra that “this is a government-to-government deal.” We are made to assume that because a deal is negotiated by governments, the presumption of regularity also automatically confers a presumption of integrity in the process. Where government institutions are weak, we cannot but feel insulted when officials give us the lame excuse of having lost critical documents. Not even the most mentally challenged teacher would accept the proverbial excuse: “the dog ate my homework” from a student. Why should we?

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