‘People can help’ watch over funds – COA, DBM

DBM Undersecretary Richard Moya and COA Chairperson Grace Tan emphasize the need for more public involvement to ensure transparency and accountability

#BUDGETWATCH. Public officials and concerned citizens participate in a dialogue to discuss accountability and transparency over public funds. Photo by Gen Cruz

MANILA, Philippines – The public will need to be more involved and help watch over public funds and projects to prevent leakages due to corruption. 

This is according to Department of Budget and Management (DBM) Undersecretary Richard Bon Moya and Commission on Audit Chairperson (COA) Grace Pulido Tan who spoke on Monday, December 2, during a special edition of TalkThursday

“We can only do so much in COA. The real key is the people. Let’s have a critical mass,” Tan added.

Moya echoed the sentiment. “There are roughly 7,000 auditors in COA and less than a hundred million Filipinos. A third of [of them have] broadband access. If we make auditing everyone’s business, we’d have about 300,000 auditors.”

With the aid of technology and the Internet as platform, there are several avenues for citizens to participate in governance.

The budget undersecretary was pertaining to i-kwenta.com and the citizen participatory audit, initiatives that have recently been internationally recognized in the fight against corruption. Read: PH wins award in London for anti-corruption project

Moya added that the public can participate in crafting the national budget through the bottom up budgeting scheme. Read: Bottom-up budgeting needs work

In partnership with the Open Budget Partnership, the special edition of TalkThursday was organized to provide an avenue for government officials and concerned citizens to get together and discuss pressing issues surrounding the budget. The event was held at Discovery Suites, where alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles also held office.

Various budget advocates and CSOs attended the event, which was considered timely after a series of reports about the systemic abuse of government funds. Lawmakers allegedly connived with private individuals to siphon Priority Development Assistance Funds (PDAF) or pork barrel into their own pockets, underscoring the need for public scrutiny of how government funds are spent.

The Supreme court recently ruled the PDAF as unconstitutional, a welcome development hailed as “revolutionary,” but civil society groups said public vigilance should continue.

Delayed audit reports and unspent appropriations

As the primary agencies responsible for fund disbursement and audit, DBM and COA have been at the receiving end of criticism and demands for accountability, especially after the pork barrel scam was exposed.

Budget advocates raised their concerns over the allegedly inefficient performance of DBM and COA which may have paved the way for the abuse of public funds. 

Tan and Moya responded to this by encouraging greater public involvement.

“You have to acknowledge to a large degree that a big hierarchal organization is really not prone to be efficient. That’s part of the problem. There are organizational issues. There are procurement issues. There are feedback problems,” the budget undersecretary said.

On the other hand, Mercy Fabros of the Alternative Budget Initiative (ABI) cited the delayed audit reports filed on the COA web page.  

“We acknowledge we have problems and we wish it could be sooner… but our problem also is that the agencies do not give us what we need to be able to audit. It has always been a very contentious thing,” Tan said.

Audit reports are critical not only in guiding budget legislation but also in ensuring transparency over the execution of government projects.

Next steps

To the panelists and the audience, one way to move forward from the lessons of the pork barrel scam is to acknowledge the value of crowdsourcing in strengthening transparency.  

Jane Uymatiao of Blog Watch talked about #AidmonitorPH, an initiative to crowdsource information on foreign humanitarian aid.

“Perfect challenge to prime the crowd for crowdsourcing – #BudgetWatch all Yolanda aid that go through government and non-government institutions,” Tanya Hamada, executive director of INCITEGov, said. 

On the other hand, Maria Ressa, Rappler’s CEO, emphasized the potential of crowdsourcing by sharing the #BudgetWatch and Open Budget Partnership initiative. 

“For us, we add technology to the wisdom of the crowd,” Ressa said. 

The gathering resulted in a lively and interactive dialogue between the two government officials and budget advocates. – with reports from Gemma B. Mendoza and Raisa Serafica/Rappler.com

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