* This is my article in BusinessWorld Opinion last Wednesday, October 28.
Many Filipinos and Asians now are getting more vocal about their frustrations regarding government (inefficiencies, wastes, corruption, plunder, etc.), corporate monopolies and duopolies, politicians and/or political parties, and so on. One of the explanations is that people have more information and have increased access to the Internet and events happening in their country and abroad.
More affordable laptops, tablets, and mobile phones plus greater access to the Internet, are big contributors to this.
In the past, news about a political scandal or a murder can take days or even weeks to be disseminated to the rest of the country. But now, these events can be broadcast within minutes and hours. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media platforms have helped transformed ordinary citizens into spontaneous reporters of important community events and stories and national issues.
For this piece, I wish to test this hypothesis: “Increased publicly available information, broader access to the Internet, result in lesser government corruption.”
This is not an exhaustive academic paper but another short attempt at explaining what contributes to greater or lesser wastes and corruption in governments, in the Philippines and other Asian countries.
Two sets of data will be used: Internet use and mobile phone subscription data from the Asian Development Bank and corruption perception index by the Transparency International (TI). So the data set is limited and hence, its conclusive function is also limited and hence, may be inaccurate for some countries. Nonetheless, the numbers should give readers more ideas by which they make their own conclusions.
In the table below, note the multiple — meaning the number of times the figure in 2014 have expanded over the same figures in 2010 or 2000. This is a good indicator for the people’s greater access to information.
From the data shown, if the aforementioned hypothesis is true, the following countries should experience reduction in corruption in 2014 compared to 2010, at least in corruption perception: Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, and Laos.
Let us now check TI’s data for Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries. Brunei is not included in the report.
- Significant improvement in global rank and score in just four years by the Philippines (134th to 85th);
- Mild improvement in global rank by Malaysia (56th to 50th) and Laos (154th to 145th);
- Decline in global rank for Singapore (1st to 7th) and Thailand (78th to 85th);
- Eight of the nine ASEAN countries have experienced improvement in scores, which is an indicator of overall decline in corruption perceptions. The reason why many of them have not improved significantly in global ranking is because other countries have also improved their scores;
- Overall, there is reduction in corruption perception in ASEAN countries. Singapore might have slipped in global ranking and score, but it remains in the top 10.
The hypothesis seems to be confirmed by the above data except in Thailand, which remains under a military junta and dictatorship since 2013 or 2014 with no electoral and popular mandate, nor plans to hold any election in the near future. Corruption perceptions therefore, declines overall.
As people become more empowered with more information, they become more demanding and more politically impatient. People want quicker changes in the socioeconomic conditions of the country. And muted in various political and economic analysis, is the desire by many people to have less government — less regulations and taxation, less permits and bureaucracies.
More information means people can manage their own lives, their own households and communities better. More information is improvement in people’s welfare itself.
Ignorance partly due to inefficient public education system can be compensated by the people having access to the Web, where people can download and read almost any type of information and skills upgrading they want.
The people’s impatience with government inefficiencies, wastes, and corruption should be a signal for government leaders and officials to reduce and shrink their intervention and assault on the people’s pockets and free will.
So long as people do not resort to violence and deception to expand their income and wealth, there is little or no justification for governments to keep their high degree of regulations and taxation, permits, and bureaucracies.
Bienvenido S. Oplas, Jr. is the head of Manila-based Minimal Government Thinkers, Inc., and a Fellow of Kuala Lumpur-based South East Asia Network for Development (SEANET).