COA: Our main weapon vs gov’t corruption
Never mind that President Duterte called on local government officials to ignore “stupid” Commission on Audit (COA) circulars during a post-“Ompong” briefing with Ilocos Norte Gov. Imee Marcos. Never mind that the President told Marcos to push down the stairs any COA representative present in the briefing, after Marcos said the COA refused to allow cash advances for typhoon-related materials like GI sheets. The rants were typical presidential prerogatives that have defied the law of gravity during the past two years.
What is scary are the possible consequences of the President’s remarks, which could now be treated as official government policy. Our greatest fear is for local officials to ignore procurement laws and COA circulars because we have a chief of state who encourages defiance of the rule of law. We fear for the thousands of COA auditors whose lives might be in danger because the President encourages violence against auditors who are doing their job well. And we fear that, out of fear, COA auditors will turn a blind eye to anomalies. We will then have runaway graft and corruption in every nook of the bureaucracy.
From its recent audit reports, the COA has proven to be an effective weapon in exposing anomalies by public officials. Consider the flagging of millions’ worth of doubtful purchases and fabricated documents by the province of Ilocos Norte; the P14.5 billion spent for the Office of the President in 2017, which is up by 534 percent from 2016; the disallowance of P399.06 million of anomalous purchases of spare parts and the repair of 18 V-150 light armored vehicles by the Philippine National Police; the P2-billion questionable transactions of the Department of Tourism under former secretary Wanda Teo; and the P4.5 million excessive allowances received by lawyers of the Office of Government Corporations.
Article IX-D of the 1987 Philippine Constitution states that the COA is an independent constitutional commission which has the primary duty to examine, audit and settle all accounts and expenditures of the funds and properties of the Philippine government. It has the “exclusive authority” to define the scope of its audit and examination, establish the techniques and methods required therefore, and promulgate accounting and auditing rules and regulations, including those for the prevention and disallowance of irregular, unnecessary, excessive and extravagant or unconscionable expenditures, or uses of government funds and properties.
No law can be passed, says the Constitution, “exempting any entity of the government or its subsidiary in any guise whatever, or any investment of public funds, from the jurisdiction of the COA.”
With such broad powers and authority, the COA is often said to be the watchdog and guardian of the treasury. When, in the course of its audit, the COA finds government expenditures to be excessive, extravagant, unconscionable and irregular, it issues a notice of disallowance. When it finds a case of underappraisal, underassessment or undercollection, it issues a notice of charge.
The primary responsibility for enforcing these notices, however, rests with the concerned agency. If the agency fails in this responsibility either by omission or commission, whatever good the COA might have done would be wasted, and the government and the people would be left with the empty bag.
When the COA finds irregularities that, in its assessment, constitute criminal violations, it refers them to the Ombudsman and recommends the filing of appropriate charges against the erring officials and employees. If the Ombudsman does not properly discharge its assigned duty, the volumes of evidence gathered and the painstaking work done by the COA auditors would be rendered meaningless. The wrongdoers, meanwhile, would get off scot-free and enjoy another chance to steal the people’s money.
The present administration claims to hate “the slightest whiff of corruption”; if so, it needs the COA to enforce good governance. People expect moral integrity from the heads of government agencies, and hope they will comply with the COA’s circulars. On the other hand, we hope that COA auditors will not be intimidated by the President’s remarks. Filipino citizens desire nothing less than for the government to shape up and deliver on its responsibilities to the people.
Charlie A. Agatep is chair and CEO of Grupo Agatep.
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