COA decries massive budget cut for 2015

MANILA, Philippines – In its proposed budget for 2015, the Commission on Audit (COA) asked for a capital outlay budget of P838 million to construct satellite offices, build a database, among other projects that were important in ensuring the agency's independence.


When the proposed P2.61 trillion national budget was transmitted to Congress, the Department of Budget Management (DBM) had cut down to P405,000 the state audit agency's budget for capital expenditures.  

COA chair Grace Pulido Tan on Monday, September 1, decried the massive budget cut that her agency received. 

"We are really concerned by the almost wipeout of our request for capital outlay," Tan told the committee on appropriations of the House of Representatives during the budget briefing.

A bulk of the amount was supposed to be allocated for the construction of provincial satellite audit offices (PSAO) for state auditors. While the auditors are expected to be independent, the lack of COA offices in provinces has forced them to hold office in government agencies they are auditing themselves. 

The project, however, was not approved by the DBM. 

"I can't overemphasize the fact that in the state of affairs like that, it erodes independence somehow. This is why we want to have our own office," Tan said. 

The proposed budget for COA for 2015 that DBM submitted is P8.162 billion, which is 3.14% or P264.2 million lower than what it got for 2014. The amount represents 0.31% of the P2.61-trillion proposed national budget. 

A huge percentage of the COA budget will go to personnel services at P7.837 billion. A total of P325.5 million will go to maintenance and other operating expenses. 

COA is appealing for a higher budget for 2015. 

Aside from satellite offices, the agency also wants to create a digital database of documents and audit reports. 

"When [lawmakers] request for documents, we can't readily provide them. There is no integrated system by which all of these information should be readily available. Other than what we have already reported, we can't provide other documents because we have to look through them," Tan said.

"When cases reach the Sandiganbayan sometimes we can't find the documents anymore because of the length of the process and the turnover of people. We are at the losing end," the commissioner said.

COA played an instrumental role in exposing the multi-billion-peso pork barrel scam, where lawmakers are accused of plundering public funds by channeling them to fake non-governmental organizations. 

In August 2013, COA released a special report into lawmakers' discretionary Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) that tagged 192 lawmakers in the misuse of about P6 billion worth of public funds.

The Supreme Court later on declared the PDAF as unconstitutional. Three senators, along with alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles, are facing graft and plunder charges over the scam.