Investigating Officials: Where to Start
takes place because individuals who have been entrusted with power
take liberties with the law and with the public purse. Pursuing the
trail of wrongdoing inevitably leads to individuals who commit malfeasance.
Sooner or later, therefore, those uncovering corruption will have
to check on the lifestyles, assets, and behavior of public officials.
These are areas that are ripe for investigation. The accumulation
of wealth by those who hold public office is hardly kept secret,
and there is bound to be documentation proving such illicit amassing
of riches. Moreover, even while corrupt deals are transacted behind
closed doors, those who commit wrongdoing invariably leave a trail,
either in the form of botched procedures or behavior that violates
codes of ethics.
The following are some techniques that have been successfully used
to investigate corrupt public officials:
Extravagant lifestyles are one of the most obvious indicators of
corruption and among the easiest to document. They are also a violation
of the law, if an official is unable to prove where she got the
wherewithal to support such a lifestyle.
The Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act (Republic Act 3019) says
that a public official can be dismissed if he "has been found to
have acquired during his incumbency, whether in his name or in the
name of other persons, an amount of property and/or money manifestly
out of proportion to his salary and to his other lawful income."
There is a presumption of culpability if an official cannot explain
where she acquired income or assets. Among the things mentioned
in R.A. 3019 as indicators of unexplained wealth are unexplained
bank deposits, manifestly excessive expenditures, and
ostentatious display of wealth, including frequent travel abroad.
Visits to offices and houses are a good way to begin a lifestyle
check. Among the things to look out for are fancy vehicles (boats,
cars, jet skis, etc.) parked in these homes or used for ferrying
officials, sumptuous parties hosted by them, the retinues they keep
(bodyguards, valets, maids), the suits and jewelry they wear. Other
lifestyle indicators are foreign trips, children sent abroad for
schooling, or, as in the case of former president Estrada, luxury
houses built for mistresses and family members.
After taking note, one can begin asking questions. Remember that
public officials are banned by the anti-graft law from receiving
gifts. Find out whether they have a plausible explanation for the
manner in which they live. What salaries do they get from the government?
Did they inherit or marry into land or other forms of wealth? Did
they make money from a business or profession?
To answer these questions, one must do a background check. Ask
for curriculum vitae; interview family, friends, staff, classmates,
and townmates; scour newspaper archives for articles about these
Documents to look for
magazines, and newsletters
family histories, genealogies, and Who's Who Directories and
of trade and professional organizations
and permits (for firearms, business, etc.)
registry records (birth, marriage, etc.)
of campaign expenditures
(arrival and departure) records