ProPinoy caught up with COA Chairperson Grace Pulido Tan and asked her about COA’s work in the pork barrel scandal, what we can expect next, and some plans underway to make government auditing a community effort. Read on!
PP: If COA conducts annual audits, why were these fraudulent projects not caught earlier? Why did it take a special audit under your direction to investigate these anomalies?
Pulido-Tan: The yearly audit of agencies is more in the nature of a compliance or financial audit, the main focus of which is to determine whether the financial statements are in conformity with generally accepted accounting principles. In the process, certain deviations or questionable transactions may be uncovered and reported, but the audit is not as extensive or in depth as a special audit. A special audit, on the other hand, is focused on a specific program of government and involves several agencies involved in the program, like the recent PDAF special audit. This kind of audit is more extensive and in-depth, and the auditors assigned for audits like this are more highly trained and skilled. The PDAF special audit was started in May 2010, before my time; it was completed in July 2012. Writing the report and getting the comments of the covered agencies took another year, hence it was released only in July 2013.
PP: In a previous interview, you mentioned uncooperativeness from the DBM resulted in some errors in the special report. Is this common when conducting an audit?
Pulido-Tan: In any audit, we rely on certain reports and information given by agencies, like the DBM, specially on matters within their functions and authority, like releases from the budget. We have the right to presume that official duty has been regularly performed. Nonetheless, we also have procedures to validate these reports, but we also need other documents which the DBM could not give us despite repeated requests. It is not uncommon for agencies to be uncooperative, because in an audit, vulnerabilities are usually uncovered. Sometimes, it is not a matter of being uncooperative; it could simply be a cavalier attitude towards record keeping and accountability on the part of the agencies. Not everyone takes these things seriously.
PP: Can you describe COA’s process of contacting the NGOs and beneficiaries concerned? What is the best effort applied by COA?
Pulido-Tan: COA exerted all efforts to contact and reach the NGOs, and this is standard procedure. We sent letters, rarely any responded. We went to their given addresses. Some we found, many we did not. It’s either the addresses were fictitious or located in residential areas or turned out to be occupied by different persons.
PP: Some legislators denied their signatures in projects the COA was auditing. Is this common? Were their records falsified, or does the evidence suggest that the lawmakers (p59-60) were indeed involved in the scheme?
Pulido-Tan: It is not for us to make a determination whether their signatures are fake. We simply state that in our report. It is a matter of defense for them, a rather common one.
PP: Can the COA report itself be used to file charges? What can government and ordinary citizens do to file substantial charges against the implicated persons and entities?
Pulido-Tan: The Report can be the basis of further investigation. This is what the IAAGCC (Inter Agency Anti Graft Coordinating Council) is now doing. The IAAGCC is composed of the Secretary of Justice, the Ombudsman and the COA Chair, the “three furies” as news reports call us. The role of the COA is to turn over and present our source documents on which our report is based for the evaluation of the OMB and DOJ Sec. This is called the fact-finding phase of the investigation. They are the ones who will decide if cases should be filed and against whom.
PP: What are COA’s next steps after releasing this report?
Pulido-Tan: We shall continue to do our work as faithfully and well as we can, without fear or favor, and assist the OMB and DOJ Secretary in the investigation and build-up of cases.
PP: You were recently at a World Bank forum unveiling the COA’s Citizen Participatory Audit (CPA). How can such the process be strengthened and rolled out to involve the public in auditing the PDAF? Are there plans to institutionalize the CPA?
Pulido-Tan: The CPA is a new program we launched last year, to involve citizens in actual audit of certain projects that impact their day-to-day life in a real way. We have piloted it on flood control, garbage collection systems, disaster aid, basic health care in every barangay, and availability of schools and classrooms. We are in the process of institutionalizing it and hopefully, we can do it for PDAF- funded projects as well.
PP: What other reforms need to take place within the COA itself so that we can be assured of transparency, accuracy, and integrity beyond PNoy’s administration? How can the public be reassured that COA is acting independently?
Pulido-Tan: Beefing up our manpower complement with the best, brightest and most upright; continuously improving their capabilities thru targeted training and workshops; properly rewarding them for their hard work and protecting them from harassment; computerizing our processes so reports are more informative and timely.