#AnimatED: Challenges for next COA chief

Soon, it will be minus 1 for the “3 Furies” – the women on the frontlines of President Aquino’s anti-corruption battle.

On February 2, Grace Pulido-Tan, chairperson of the Commission on Audit, ends her term, leaving behind Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales and Justice Department Secretary Leila de Lima.

Under Tan’s watch, COA broke ground with its fine-tooth audit of the pork barrel and Malampaya fund. The agency has since scored points and shored up its credibility.

One institutional habit has yet to be changed, though: assigning resident auditors. This means that auditors hold office, for years, in the agencies that they audit and are sometimes provided perks such as cars and allowances. The distance between the auditor and the audited disappears and relations become cozy. Anomalies are glossed over. 

Clearly, this was the case with Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia, the Armed Forces comptroller charged with plunder.

Still, there remain big-picture issues, starting with COA’s 2 vital roles. First, it promotes clean government by checking abuse of public funds. Second, it enables government to deliver services by providing clear rules on financial accountability. 

COA, however, has focused on its first duty and has been remiss on the second. Instead of supporting government agencies to fulfill their development mission, it has hindered some. For example, it disallowed a department from buying low-end smart phones for its field personnel – which they needed to monitor anti-poverty programs – because these were seen as bordering on luxury.

COA, with its 7,000 or so auditors, has yet to upgrade its understanding of the role of technology in honest governance and, on a larger scale, to appreciate the nature and nuances of an agency’s work.

A study by former government officials pointed out some of the issues COA has to resolve: unreasonable application of rules – “certain expenses are disallowed on the ground that the letter of the law was not followed strictly even if the result was better than otherwise;” and  “inability of auditors to appreciate the nature of agency work – in highly technical operations, some auditors lack the skills to fully grasp the complexities of the processes…in times of emergency, certain rules may have to be foregone in the greater interest of public service.”

The new COA chief will have 7 years to further reform this important agency. This person must be of impeccable integrity, dedicated to transparency and good government.

President Aquino is mindful that his appointee to this independent body will be counted among his anti-corruption legacies. – Rappler.com