Editorial: Working with COA

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Tuesday, June 24, 2014


THE usually genial Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama had some sharp words for the Commission on Audit (COA) during his press conference last Monday. Reacting to a recent COA report, the mayor allegedly cautioned state auditors against describing some transactions as “illegal”; at one point, he reportedly said that COA was “barraging” his administration.

Now, Rama is not the first chief executive to complain about a COA report. Mayors and governors often gripe about being asked to enforce recommendations that no longer fall within their control, like collecting disallowances from public officials or employees who can no longer be located or have long died.

But the audit process clearly provides for relief. For as long as the agency can show proof of due diligence, it can appeal any audit finding.

Editorial cartoon by Josua Cabrera of Sun.Star Cebu
(Editorial cartoon by Josua Cabrera of Sun.Star Cebu)

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In fact, mayors who feel “barraged” by COA need only to retrieve a July 2009 report (“Using Reports of the Commission on Audit”), commissioned by the US Agency for International Development as part of the Philippine National Budget Monitoring Project, to find some consolation.

While the report acknowledges that COA’s findings can be “powerful tools” to make the public sector more accountable, it points out that these reports could be more timely, for one. COA reports are due by the end of September, which means that the next year’s budget is prepared, typically from July to September, without the benefit of COA’s observations about the year before.

COA’s reports are also incomplete, despite the fact that it has more people than its counterpart agencies in Indonesia, Thailand and the United States, the USAID report added. Case in point: COA released last year an illuminating special audit report on how the Priority Development Assistance Funds had been misused, but it covered only a limited number of agencies and only transactions from 2007 to 2009.

The same report also recommends orientation programs on the use of COA reports, for civil society organizations and interested groups or persons. That’s an idea we fully support.

The more people are informed about and understand COA reports, perhaps the more local officials can focus on facing what these reports seek to improve—rather than lashing out at the messengers tasked with delivering them.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on June 25, 2014.

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