New in gov't: Open data, cashless purchases

MANILA, Philippines – President Benigno Aquino III launched what the government coined as some of its most significant good governance initiatives including a Cashless Purchase Card (CPC) System for government agencies, and an Open Data portal to make government information readily available to the people.

In his keynote speech at the government-organized Good Governance Summit on Wednesday, January 15, Aquino described the initiatives as a means to increase transparency and accountability, in line with his administration's goals towards good governance and to "fulfill the promise made in [his] campaign, when there is no corruption there will be no poverty."

Aquino said his administration's focus is to improve processes especially when they have become "obsolete or counterproductive."

"Outdated systems and processes are susceptible to abuse, leading to inefficiency, wastage and opportunities for the unscrupulous to steal," he said.

"How do we further plug leaks in the system to prevent graft and corruption? How do we make processes that are more efficient?," he added. "The goal is to make it very difficult for unscrupulous individuals to steal from the people regardless of who sits in office."

Aquino said the CPC system and the Open Data portal are only some of the items on the administration's "long list of reforms."

The Good Governance and Anti-Corruption Cluster Action Plan 2013-2016 is also expected to be introduced during the 3-day, government-organized summit.

Response to corruption

The CPC System is the government's response to alleged conversion of funds in the military, which involved billions of pesos. Aquino said the cashless purchase cards which will be given to agencies are like ordinary credit cards but with "additional restrictions suitable to government."

The system allows the purchase of a limited menu of items to be done quickly, and permits instant liquidation, to improve the speed and transparency of government expenditures.

Aquino said the military, the Commission on Audit and the Department of Budget and Management are the pilot agencies that will first test the cards in the first quarter of 2014. If successful, it will be rolled out in other national government agencies next year.

As it stands, the President said 54% of the government's financial transactions are already done through cashless systems, a stark difference from the rest of the country wherein 98% of transactions are still made in cash.

But Aquino said his administration is working on "pushing the envelope further."

"Government financial transactions should be 100% checkless, 80% cashless before the end of the year," he said.

He added the CPC system will improve fiscal management system, help officials who need to deal with the needs of their agencies without having to go through lengthy processes, and allow the procurement of necessary materials while at the same time, immediately tracking suspicious use of cards.

The cards, he added, will help "capture and collect real data" that will help the government understand which programs need the most funding, and allow the National Treasury to determine how much cash is needed on a daily basis -- information that the government can use in future decision-making.

Citigroup gets the contract

In a press release on Wednesday, the DBM said it will tap the services of Citigroup for the cashless purchase cards. The banking group won the public bidding for the project in 2011.

The government program's steering committee has yet to determine the credit limit to the cards that will be issued to agencies.

Among the pilot agencies, 10 cards will be issued to the armed forces under the Department of National Defense during the first month of implementation. Another 10 cards will be issued to the AFP after two months, the budget department said.

The DBM itself will receive 2 cards. The press release did not mention how cards will go to COA, one of the 3 pilot agencies.

"The cards will be issued only to units/offices authorized to manage petty cash releases," the DBM said.

Making information available

Aside from the CPC System, Aquino also introduced the Open Data portal with Open Government Data-Philippines, an online platform that collates all relevant data of government.

Aquino said the website – which will be available to the public on Thursday, January 16 – will include information from total enrollment to secondary schools to budget and procurement data "and everything in between."

He said the portal will not just be a repository of data, but a source of information that would help "make statistics understandable."

"It is about empowering the people through information," he said.

Both the Open Data portal and the CPC system, Aquino said, prove the government is "upgrading in the truest sense of the word" and "exploring every possible avenue to improve the way we serve our countrymen."

"Moving forward, these will continue to characterize our efforts. These will allow us to reach greater heights and move from success to success, as we make good governance the norm—a firm foundation that succeeding administrations can hopefully build on, for the benefit of the Philippines." he said. - Rappler.com