A Criminological Perspective on the Pandemic
By: Rommel K Manwong
Area: Applied Criminology, Critical Criminology, Criminal Justice
As commonly understood, graft is a form of political corruption, being the unscrupulous use of a politician's authority for personal gain. Likewise, political graft occurs when funds intended for public services, tasks and functions are intentionally misdirected in order to maximize the benefits to individual interests.
The Routine Activity Theory or RAT is hereby applied to explain political graft during the COVID-19 crisis by considering the convergence of a criminally motivated politician, the attractive presence of a health emergency fund (plus contributions and donations), and the absence of a guardian capable of stopping or deterring the graft. The absence of situational sensitivity due to lack of ethics; personal greed that leads to a strong desire for money and power, with no regard whatsoever to moral boundaries; the failure to condemn corrupt behavior; presence of inefficient control mechanisms; and bigger opportunities as against economic burden facilitate an environment so conducive to graft and corruption during the COVID-19 crisis.
The release of the P275 billion emergency fund for COVID-19 pursuant to Republic Act No. 11469, otherwise known as the “Bayanihan to Heal as One Act" has provided a huge opportunity for graft and corruption among those who are in power. Although plans on how it will be allocated and spent, such emergency fund was entirely directed for pandemic responses and the various departments which have realigned their released budgets, could then be, in some ways, vulnerable for political graft.
According to the RAT, crime occurs when three conditions are present - a motivated offender, an attractive target, and the absence of a guardian. It explains that being able to commit a crime is not enough, a motivated offender must also be willing to do so. The opportunity is boundless, suitable targets are attractive and vulnerable. Guardians are persons or objects that block or deter crimes. Examples of guardians include a perpetrator’s handler or a target’s protector. Furthermore, super guardians regulate guardians, and they can include external parties. In the case of political graft, guardians and super guardians include advisers and political consultants.
During the 70s, Felson and Cohen formed the Routine Activity Theory to explain crime rate changes in the United States between 1947 and 1974. The theory assumes that crime is unaffected by social conditions like poverty, inequality, and unemployment. Accordingly, prosperity creates more opportunity for crimes to occur, explaining why crime arose after World War II, when Western economies and welfare states were developing. In other words, crime is a function of opportunity that does not require dangerous or evil people. If a target is unprotected and worth the reward, crime will occur (Elliot, 2020).
Routine Activity Theory studies crime in relation to its surroundings, avoiding speculation about offender motivation, unlike other criminological theories. RAT seeks to explain that most crimes are routine, trivial, and unreported. This makes it useful for explaining and, therefore, for deterring influential crimes like graft and corruption that involve planning and risk assessment, as opposed to expressive crimes involving emotion. The goal of RAT is to enable situational crime prevention, so that measures to manage, design, or manipulate the environment to reduce the opportunity for crime is provided, thereby making riskier and less rewarding.
According to the RAT, political graft is inevitable and mostly undetected. There will always be politicians who take advantage to generate income and maintain savings through graft. Brought about by the pandemic, the availability of a huge emergency fund plus the likely unaccounted donations are inherently attractive targets among politicians. As said, a target’s vulnerability depends on guardian capability. In the current state of the pandemic where inadequacy of audit and soft enforcement functions are seen, the target is seriously vulnerable and thus graft is highly likely to occur.