The state auditor as guardian angel: Citizen participation and initiatives for integrity

by Adelle Chua

Philippine Commission on Audit chairman Atty. Michael Aguinaldo said he intends to refine people’s perception of the commission from being a watchdog to a guardian angel.

Aguinaldo said this as he spoke in front of members of the Makati Business Club at an Integrity Initiative forum, co-organized by the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability in East Asia and the Pacific, held August 20, 2015 at Fairmont Hotel in Makati City.   

Aguinaldo acknowledged the daunting and noble task of ensuring integrity in the public and private sectors, and of the challenge of breaking the culture of impunity in the use of taxpayers’ money.

“We audit more than 8,000 government entities,” he said. “We  protect the funds. But we would also like to be a partner and enabler.”

According to Aguinaldo, people need to take ownership of the audit function and become involved in the process, especially when the projects being looked into are in their respective communities.

One way to do it is through involvement in Citizen Participatory Audit -- a project that brings citizens and civil society organizations on one hand, and the COA on the other, in conducting value-for-money audits on projects “close to the hearts of the people.

Aguinaldo added that the use of geotagging technology has made the audit easier, because it enables physical verification of projects that may otherwise be difficult to reach, much less audit.

The chairman said that in the long term, the commission would focus on performance audits that assess projects’ efficiency and effectiveness, based on their stated objectives.

“The financial and compliance audits would eventually be outsourced to private audit firms.”

Meanwhile, Investment Ombudsman Melchor Arthur Carandang acknowledged that while there have been gains made in the fight against corruption in both the public and private sectors, “there is a lack of unified vision that dissipates the impact of national initiatives at the local level.”

Carandang, who calls himself the policeman for business, led the team that investigated the fertilizer fund scam several years back.

“We can protect private and public sector integrity by investing in anti-corruption initiatives,” he said.  He believes that corruption will only be deterred if the certainty of punishment is high.

There have been some strides, to be sure. The Philippines is now ranked 95th (from 108th) in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index. It is now 85th in terms of global competitiveness, from 129th, 105th, and 94th in recent years. In terms of economic freedom, as revealed by the Heritage Foundation, the country now ranks 76th from 89th just last year.

So what is the way forward? Say the two men, pursue anti-corruption projects and programs. Support leaders who possess competence, but also integrity.

This is the only way to strengthen our institutions, and eventually our country. “People come and go,” said Carandang, “but the institutions remain.”