LEADERS’ RESPONSIBILITY AND CORRUPTION
December 7, 2000
At the dawn of the 21st century, it is widely
recognized that corruption is a serious threat
to democracies all over the world. Recently,
several articles in newspapers and journals
have raised important issues and pondered on
corruption, the function of government, and
responsibility – personal and collective.
In Puerto Rico, the Office of the Comptroller
has a decisive role on these issues. Let us
reflect deeper on LEADERS, RESPONSIBILITY,
Government is a manifestation of the impulse
of the human community to organize for social,
economic and political purposes. Any corruption
in the government is essentially an attack
upon ourselves and our aspirations of what
we are to become as a people. Corruption is
a direct attack on the institution of democratic
government. Lost in greed and the hunger for
power, a vicious circle sets in. People do
not trust the government and the government
distances itself from the people. Institutional
decay and public apathy follows. Self government
deteriorates as people feel that neither their
voice nor their vote nor their effort matters.
Government then loses its legitimacy and Lincoln’s
prayer for an imperishable "government
of the people, by the people and for the people" is
lost in the deafening roar of the cash registers
of interest groups who view institutional transparency
and ethical conduct as an impediment to doing
business, notwithstanding the common good.
Society looks upon government to repair many
of the ills that affect us. Yet our challenges
at their core are not those on which politicians,
public servants and business people are trained
for. Our greater challenges are spiritual at
their source: a misunderstanding of power,
the viciousness of greed, the heavy burden
of materialism, the erosion of civility. Government
itself must be moved to a higher level of thought,
to a profound sense of the common good, to
a quickened awareness of the value it adds
to society as a whole. The greatest minds of
democracy understood that the material foundations
of an enduring democracy rests on immaterial
On what principles do we build our society?
On what grounds do we base our personal and
collective decisions? What are our beliefs
on human nature? Are human beings single-minded,
cold calculators, each out to maximize their
own well-being? Is society mainly a marketplace
in which self-serving individuals compete with
one another –at work, in politics-, enhancing
the general welfare in the process? Are humans
able to figure out rationally and morally the
most efficient way to realize their individual
goals, and at the same time remain anchored
within a community sustained by shared values
and common purposes? Under what conditions
can business be market efficient, government
be socially responsible and community be viable?
How are we to combine an efficient and innovative
economy, with a responsible government geared
to the common good?
These are fundamental questions that we must
confront and answer clearly. At issue for politicians,
business leaders and society are deep questions
of values, choices, and behavior.
We do not believe that human beings are individuals,
free-floating atoms within society and the
economy, relating mainly on the basis of self-interest.
A more advanced view is a responsive civil
society where all can share a common and inalienable
set of values and needs, that must be protected
as the common good. Let us not underestimate
the value of cooperation, trust and decency
in public affairs. Let us perceive ourselves,
basically, as caring human beings.
We challenge the utilitarian and individualistic
paradigm applied not merely to economy, but
to the full array of social relations. We also
challenge the view that sees individuals as
morally deficient, incapable of making ethical
decisions, and often quite irrational, hence
requiring all sorts of social engineering or
political manipulations. A more positive and
hopeful view of human nature must be advanced
if we are to sustain our democratic institutions.
Personal responsibility is necessary in any
democracy. But it can be an empty dream for
many, unless we can equip them with the resources
to achieve some sense of "enough" in
material and social terms. It is one of the
main obligations of government as servant to
all its people to make this sort of responsibility
a possibility for everyone.
However, responsibility is a complex issue.
A key factor is the centrality of power in
the role of leaders and public figures –in
politics, business, professions, religions,
sports, entertainment. Usually someone has
a power advantage reflected in his/her social,
political or economical status. Indeed, a Governor
has more decision making power than his/her
bodyguard, even though one can save the life
of other. It is a plain fact of life that some
people are more responsible than others, by
the very nature of their work. This is particularly
true in the effort to prevent corruption.
Society should expect and demand of government,
business, civic, religious, educational, and
all leaders of society to exert their positive
and moral influence in the control of corruption.
It is they, primarily, who must lead the charge.
If business and government are going to CHANGE
for the better, it has to be done by what we
do, not what we say. If we are going to REALLY
fight corruption we must be clear that we "mean
business" . Otherwise, public discourse
and real action become disassociated, and official
discourse serves as a distortion from reality.
When the ideas or promises we expose are cut
off from self-knowledge and the decision to
act, we become hypocritical, demagogues, self-serving,
Democracy has its compelling requirements.
One is the political-will of elected officials
and public servants to serve the common good.
For all leaders, ethics in action is the only
test of reality. Genuine political-will to
fight corruption demands personal involvement
and moral character. Make no mistakes about
it. There are no excuses to actively fight
the increased greed and selfishness we encounter
in our daily public affairs.
Government is to serve, not to be served.
A servant government must also be under the
control of its citizens if it is to be a proper
servant. Information –the right to know
what is going on-, involvement –the right
to participate in decisions rather than leave
it all to "them"-, and individuality –the
right to certain freedoms and protections from
the government-, are three essentials of proper
citizenship. Governments which say "elect
us and leave it to us to act, always, in your
best interest" are turning democracy into
elected paternalism, or at worst, elected dictatorship.
The first duty of government, therefore, is
to be transparent and inform its people. However,
some people in authority assume that truth
is either too important or too complicated,
to be entrusted to ordinary folks. Sometimes
this is true; in war or in a national emergency.
More often it is an excuse because explanations
are too difficult or too painful. In democracy,
governments must be the servants of the people
and thus a constant and rigorous accountability is the best assurance of its credibility.
Law, freedom, a system of checks and balances,
are some of the essential ingredients of democracy.
But perhaps the bottom line is faith and trust.
Democracy requires a degree of trust that we
often take for granted. It is much harder to
build trust than to lose it. But that is precisely
the problem with corruption once we let it
become institutionalized. Fortunately, the
vast majority of our public servants and elected
officials are men and women of goodwill and
responsibility. But the heritage of trust that
has been the basis of our stable democracy
is eroding through corruption. This trust is
not a nonrenewable resource, but it is much
easier to destroy than to renew.
That is why the problem of corruption is so
ominous in their implications for Puerto Ricos’s
future. We call for a deeper understanding
of the moral ecology that sustains the lives
of all of us in a democracy. "Moral ecology" is
only another way of speaking of healthy institutions
in public administration and ethical principles
by which government and business must adhere.
At the Comptroller’s Office we have
proposed a vast number of actions, decisions
and strategies for twofold objectives: to prevent
and control corruption through our campaign
of "Cero Tolerancia a la Corrupcion" (CTC
2000 Plan was issued on December 15, 1999 and
is available in the Website of the Comptroller’s
Office – www.ocpr.gov.pr); and to enhance
the effectiveness of Public Administration
through the implementation of standards, criteria
and indicators of quality and accountability
in the management of finances, resources and
all public goods.
This is not a romantic or idealistic project.
Just the opposite. It is a viable public policy
for short and long-term practical necessities
of the new era in politics and business alike.
We are beginning a constructive task that lies
ahead for society and government. It is the
open quest for freedom, justice, and peace
that inspires democracy. It must actively involve
all of our civil society by a widening of democratic
participation in public affairs. This interdependent
task counteracts predatory relations among
individuals and groups and enables everyone
to participate in the goods of society. For
indeed the common good is the pursuit of the
good in common.
As economics, politics, and government have
become central in Puerto Rican life, our civil
society must be strengthened by a clear vision
of the common good. Rather, the political arena
has become dominated by the aggregates of private
interests which fight it out without regard
to how the outcome affects the good of the
society as a whole. Thus, Puerto Rican politics
can become an arena of power in which, at times,
competing interests battle without responsibility
for, or a conception of, the common good.
A mass of claimants centered around interests
groups is not a public. There is nothing wrong
with interests and nothing wrong with having
them represented. But a democratic government
is more than the compromising of conflicting
interests, important though as it is. Compromise,
the art of the possible, is not enough. There
are major problems to be solved and great ends
to be pursued. The original idea of a "public" in
the eighteen-century –valid today- was
not just a congeries of interests groups but
a reflective community capable of thinking
about the common good, of taking the point
of view that everyone must be cared for. Most
of our problems are truly common. We all breathe
the same air, use the same infrastructures,
and are affected –one way or another-
by the same violence, injustices, inequalities,
civic decline, and ecological vulnerability.
Some institutions have a stronger responsibility
in promoting the awareness of the common good.
Educational institutions, churches, labor unions,
financial and commercial associations, professional
organizations, among others, play a key role.
Let us teach ourselves and others that politics,
economics and government should be a reflection
of the aspiration to contribute to the happiness
of the community, and not of the need to deceive
or pillage the community.
Let us teach both ourselves and others that
politics does not have to be the art of the
possible, especially if this means the art
of speculating, calculating, secret agreements,
and pragmatic maneuvering, but that it can
also be the art of the impossible, that is,
the art of making both ourselves and the world
A mature civil society moves beyond the public’s
belief that it can influence politics by merely
voting every four years. We need to grow in
collectively organized social and political
participation other than voting and party activity:
social movements, civic protests, and single-issue
organizational activism, that mobilizes peoples
and resources, like the case in Vieques. Can
we empower our society and government in such
a way as to fight corruption? Yes, we can.
To renew our commitment we must invigorate
an active citizenship and develop organizational
forms in which their participation can be meaningful.
Those of us in government, as servants and
representatives of the people, are truly called
by faith: faith in our constituents, faith
in ourselves, faith in our public institutions,
faith in something that transcends our human
condition, a higher awareness we can reach
for. At the beginning of every day, or before
an important meeting, many of us (silently)
pray to God. Even in our Constitution we appeal
to an Almighty God. What shall our prayers
be for Puerto Rico? What if we pray and work
and serve for a more humane and decent society?
Let us hope the truism is true: that we ultimately
get what we pray for…
Perhaps all who are in leadership roles, specially
government elected officials, should carry
in their pockets and minds the admonition of
Gandhi on the "Seven Daily Sins in Today’s
"Wealth without work.
Enjoyment without conscience. Knowledge without
without morality. Science without humanity.
Religion without sacrifice. And Politics without
Commonwealth of Puerto Rico