PH wins award in London for anti-corruption project

Citizen involvement in auditing work influences the behavior of government officials and constitutes a major step towards open governance

MANILA, Philippines – Despite the controversies linking it to the misuse of public funds, a summit in London recognized the Philippines as a bright spot in the global fight against corruption.

A joint Commission on Audit (COA)-civil society project that audits government performance won the Bright Spots award at the recently concluded Open Government Partnership (OGP) Summit held from October 31 to November 1.

“Everything was a breeze, but the overwhelming feeling was that I felt proud to be a Filipino,” Vivien Suerte-Cortez of the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability in East Asia and the Pacific (ANSA-EAP) told Rappler.

“My main inspiration are my kids who I’d like to see growing up in a country that they’re proud to call their own,” said Cortez, who dedicated her life to development work since she graduated from the University of the Philippines in 1999.

In front of the more than 1,000 summit participants from civil society, business, and at least 62 participating countries who voted, Cortez candidly echoed in her 7-minute presentation COA’s report on the pork barrel scam, saying that it “highlighted weak accountability mechanisms” in the country.

“In the midst of scandals like these, it is a challenge for both government and citizen to strengthen transparency and accountability. Being recognized was also one way of putting pressure on government to take reform initiatives like CPA seriously,” said Cortez, who received the trophy with a COA delegation that included Commissioner Heidi Mendoza.

Citizen Participatory Audit

Implemented by the non-profit ANSA-EAP, the project “Citizen Participatory Audit” was declared the most inspiring among the 7 shortlisted entries from Chile, Estonia, Georgia, Indonesia, Montenegro, Philippines, and Romania.

The CPA is a mix of offline and online efforts of COA, civil society, and the citizens to “audit projects that have an impact to a large number of beneficiaries,” said Cortez, who heads the project.

This made the Philippine submission stand out because other countries implement social audits that are mainly conducted independently by civil society groups, Cortez said.

“Under the CPA project, citizens are with auditors. They are not on the outside looking in,” Cortez stressed.

The project engages citizens online through its site I-kwenta.com, but more stress is given on offline partnerships that encourage dialogue and shared understanding among citizens and state auditors, Cortez explained.

The CPA exercise is being tested in 4 projects implemented by government agencies and local government units:

  • Department of Public Works and Highway’s flood control project in Caloocan, Malabon, Navotas, and Valenzuela City (CAMANAVA) 
  • Quezon City’s Solid Waste Management Program 
  • Department of Social Welfare and Development’s Conditional Cash Transfer program (Health component)
  • Department of Education’s Public-Private-Partnership (School buildings)

Milestone

The project which kicked off two years ago, is a milestone in the advocacy to make the government more open, accountable, and responsive to citizens.

One of the highlights of the project is the close coordination between COA and civil society groups, according to Don Parafina, executive director of ANSA-EA, which serves as the liaison to other transparency advocates.

The partnership has developed a mix of tools like surveys, score cards, and data-gathering activities that involve citizens in the technical process of COA auditing. The output of the social audit bears the weight of COA’s authority as it becomes part of the official reports, Parafina stressed.

“Auditing is technical work. Just for COA to open up (its process) to ordinary citizens is a milestone in itself,” he said.

According to Parafina, this kind of citizen involvement influences the behavior of government officials and constitutes a major step towards open governance.

“If they know that people have mechanisms to check projects and programs, then somehow they will think twice in doing something that is anomalous,” Parafina said.

Philippine’s commitments

The Philippines is one of the 62 countries participating in the Open Government Partnership which was launched in 2011.

“As a founding government of the OGP, the Philippines’ attendance to the 2013 summit is an expression not only of our desire to strengthen our existing commitments, but also to introduce new ways of opening the government up to increased transparency and citizen participation. We in DBM support the delegation that is now in London, especially because most of our country commitments are directly related to the Aquino administration’s fiscal transparency agenda,” Department of Budget and Management (DBM) Secretary Florencio Abad said in a statement.

The government’s existing commitments include the following:

  • Sustaining transparency in national government plans and budget-related matters and processes
  • Supporting the passage of legislation on access to information and protection of whistleblowers
  • Engaging civil society in public audit
  • Enhancing performance benchmarks for local governance.
  • Enhancing the government procurement system
  • Strengthen grassroots participation in local planning and budgeting

The government also made the following new commitments in the London summit:

  • Providing more accessible government data in a single portal and open format
  • Initiating fiscal transparency in the extractive industry
  • Improving the ease of doing business in the Philippines

Check the independent progress report for the Philippines. Is the country fulfilling the open government principles of transparency and accountability? – Rappler.com

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