Can COA please be excused from budget deliberations?
MANILA, Philippines – Over the course of budget deliberations for the proposed 2014 budget, the Commission on Audit (COA) has found itself in a tricky situation, asking for funds from the very lawmakers who were the subject of their explosive audit report.
The agency's budget deliberations has turned into an opportunity for members of Congress to turn their ire on COA Chair Grace Pulido Tan, who led the completion of the special audit report on lawmakers' Priority Development Assistance Fund.
To avoid this situation in the future, Tan is proposing to have COA's annual budget be automatically appropriated, much like the internal revenue allotment for local government units.
"We do not complain about having to ask for a budget, but having to go through the process, medyo parang minsan nadadaan sa sindak (sometimes we are swayed by scare tactics)," Tan said.
Tan said Presidential Decree No. 1445 already provides a mechanism for this scheme.
Paragraph 3, Section 4 of the COA Charter says:
A maximum of one-half of one per-centum (1/2 of 1%) of the collections from national internal revenue taxes not otherwise accruing to Special Funds or Special Accounts in the General Fund of the National Government, upon authority from the Minister (Secretary) of Finance, shall be deducted from such collections and shall be remitted to the National Treasury to cover the cost of auditing services rendered to local government units.
Should this be practiced, Tan said they would only need to provide the cost of auditing for national agencies since the budget for their operations in LGUs can already be funded automatically.
"We are working on proposed amendments to the charter of the Commission on Audit," Tan said.
But the COA chair admits they are facing an uphill battle in Congress, which will also deliberate and pass their proposed reforms on how the agency would be funded.
On Monday evening, the Senate relaxed its rules and let Senator Jinggoy Estrada ask Tan some questions. Senators usually defend agencies' budgets on the floor.
Estrada grilled Tan about COA's service car – which the senator said was funded by the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program – as well as her travels, her daughter on her staff, and the audit report on the PDAF, in which Estrada was identified as one of the senators with misused pork barrel.
Budget Secretary Butch Abad later denied DAP funds were used to buy the car but admitted the controversial program was used to fund COA's computers and litigators.
Budget hearings 'waste of time'
In her opening speech at the first anniversary celebration of the award-winning Citizen Participatory Audit project, Tan said she felt her interpellation by Estrada during Monday's Senate budget hearing, which lasted until past-midnight, was "a waste of executive time."
"It is something that pumps your adrenaline up but at the same time, I was telling myself, 'Oh my God, what a waste of executive time,'" Tan said. "I don't think there was really anything of national significance there."
Tan also revealed that Estrada had already spoken to her in private before their encounter on the Senate floor.
"I sat down with Jinggoy and he said, 'These are the questions I want to ask. I hope you don't mind so when we are on the floor, I don't need to be asking them again.' So I said, 'Please, that would be great,'" Tan said.
But Estrada asked the same questions anyway, Tan said.
"What I really learned from all these is a lesson on temperance," Tan said. "It was really a battle of trying to wear me down. He kept on asking, Pagod ka na ba (Are you tired)? But no, I won't give up." – Rappler.com
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